By James Cullum
For a fun night with the better half, go see Woody Allen’s “Play It Again Sam” at the Little Theatre of Alexandria.
New York-based film critic Allan Felix [Dave Wright] just went through a messy divorce. Nancy, his ex-wife, cruelly left two weeks ago and his friends find him full of doubt, self-loathing and despair. His friends, Dick and Linda, hate to see him like this and egg him on to start dating. Felix agrees – and his road to recovery is plagued by fantasies of strange and exotic women… and Humphrey Bogart [John G. McCracken].
As the weeks progress, Felix starts spending a lot of time with Linda [Maureen Rohn] – who has time to spare since Dick is constantly in the throes of the stock market and other business matters. Felix begins the courting process and imagines himself as Humphrey Bogart – the perfect man. But when it comes to reality, the results are not so predictable.
Allan: That’s quite a lovely Jackson Pollock, isn’t it?
Museum Girl: Yes, it is.
Allan: What does it say to you?
Museum Girl: It restates the negativeness of the universe, the hideous lonely emptiness of existence. Nothingness. The predicament of Man forced to live in a barren, Godless eternity like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void with nothing but waste, horror and degradation, forming a useless bleak straitjacket in a black absurd cosmos.
Allan: What are you doing Saturday night?
Museum Girl: Committing suicide.
Allan: What about Friday night?
Despite the various masks Felix tries to wear, it doesn’t take long before he and Linda are connected by their loneliness and lack of pretension.
Wright does an admirable job as Felix. It’s not easy playing a part written by and intended for Woody Allen. One automatically envisions Allen delivering his standard nervous stammering and self-deprecating humor. But Wright takes a slightly different turn. He isn’t the thin, Jewish nerd. He’s an overweight Jewish nerd with near-perfect slapstick timing. The play is a mountain of work for an actor, especially when considering all of the alternate realities and fantasies that Felix’s mind overanalyzes.
The play has many good elements including the set, designed by Dan Remmers, which is convincing and fun. The audience is constantly reminded that they are watching a play from the 1970’s – everything from the telephone with a phone cord to old fashioned phone numbers . The cast should work on timing their punchlines to the laughter of the audience. A few good jokes were missed because of audience laughter.
Bogart’s advice is always relevant. “You’re as nervous as Lizabeth Scott was just before I blew her brains out,” he calmly tells Felix, while smoking a cigarette and wearing a trench coat. At times the visions go out of control. At one point, make-believe Nancy shoots make-believe Bogart in the gut and takes over the fantasy. Thankfully, McCracken plays the role straight. He doesn’t smirk once or reveal his entire face behind the brim of his brown fedora.
“Play It Again Sam” runs at the Little Theatre of Alexandria until June 26.