Saturday, July 31, 2010

World's Stage's Comedy Curiosity

Relatively new theatre company stages nearly forgotten Neil Simon Comedy

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Months after staging a brief production of The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged), The World’s Stage Theatre Company presents one of Simon's lesser-known works. Star-Spangled Girl is kind of a curiosity. Debuting in 1966, the romantic comedy made it to the stage one year after the debut of The Odd Couple and one year before The Plaza Suite. Critics panned it. It had a brief run on Broadway. There was a film. It’s not one of Simon’s more popular shows. The World’s Stage brings it to the 10th Street Theatre for a 2-day, three-performance weekend that ends tonight.

The script feels like a standard love triangle romantic comedy with a few vague spritzes of political humor throw-in to add personality. It’s standard, uninspired, mid-60’s sitcom fare. Eric Schabla and Teddy Warren play Andy and Norman—a pair of guys trying to start-up a politically progressive magazine called Fallout. Andy’s the business mind behind the publication—played here by tall, lanky Schabla. Schabla has comic instincts that work well for classic domestic sitcom. Andy’s a smart, pragmatic guy who is passionate about the publication.

Simon juxtaposes him against a couple of slightly odd characters in the three-person comedy. Norman is an unstable journalistic savant who is writing the entire magazine himself under numerous pen names. As interesting as it might be to explore a character like this, Simon shrugs the more interesting aspects of Norman aside. All Norman is really given throughout much of the play is a comic obsession for the next door neighbor, a beautiful, young woman from the south who has moved-in next door. Teddy Warren plays Norman’s comically unhealthy obsession with the neighbor in comic exaggeration. The character could be presented in a darkly comic way—the comedy of psychological instability that would add depth to a largely superficial script. The character could also be played with exaggerated, manic poise—sort of a cartoon character for the small stage. Warren plays it right down the middle, which would be kind of boring and uninspired were it not for the occasional spark of the actor’s intermittently flashy charm.

The beautiful next-door neighbor is played by Gretchen Mahkorn. Sophie is a southern belle/Olympic swimmer currently working for the YWCA. Not exactly the most complicated character in a Neil Simon play, the role of Sophie calls on Mahkorn to look attractive and be upset, angry and self-righteous. Mahkorn does all of this well. The role also calls on her to affect a Southern drawl, which isn’t entirely convincing. Mahkorn’s real success here is in keeping the character thoroughly likeable through the play in spite of the fact that she’s doing little more than complaining for most of her time onstage. Mahkorn’s respect and apparent empathy for a character without much actual substance enhances a less-than inspired script.

The World’s Stage Theatre Company’s production of The Star-Spangled Girl closes tonight with the final two of its three performances at the 10th Street Theatre. Today’s performances begin at 4 and 8 pm. All tickets are $10. 

 

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