by Terrance Mc Arthur
Neil Simon, Hitmaker.
Since the 1950s, Simon has been the go-to guy for laughter on radio, TV, and in the movies. Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity, The Odd Couple, The Goodbye Girl, Brighton Beach Memoirs…..comedy is spelled Neil Simon. Even his less-famous scripts are worth seeing. In 1966, The Star-Spangled Girl ran for 261 performances with a cast of Anthony Perkins, Richard Benjamin, and Connie Stevens. The Good Company Players have brought the show to their 2nd Space Theatre in a spritely J. Daniel Herring-directed production through April 22. Go forth and see it…and laugh.
After more than 50 years, lines still sparkle with Simon twists of phrase and logic. The editor (Andy—Anthony TeNyenhuis) and writer (Norman—Joseph Ham & Aaron Gomes alternate performances) of a radical, anti-establishment magazine, sharing a San Francisco apartment in 1967, have their lives changed when a Southern, flag-waving, All-American Olympic swimmer (Sophie—Paige Tucker) moves into the building. Norman falls for Sophie and goes to extravagant lengths to proclaim his love, which the young lady resists, while Andy just wants Norman to finish writing the last articles needed for the next issue of the magazine. Cupid’s arrows go awry, people get upset with people, and everything works out in the end…and the audience laughs.
TeNyenhuis is earnest and harried as he tries to keep the publication afloat and their rent paid by catering to the whims of their landlady. His diction is crisp (I don’t know if it’s good coaching or years of vocal training, but I could hear every word and catch every punchline spoken by this cast of three), and his character shifts into confusion and decision are executed with precision and smoothness.
Tucker exhibits Southern gentility as the naïve young woman trying to recover from an athletic humiliation. She is frazzled when pursued, confused when love-struck, and thoroughly delightful. I want to give you an actress to which I could compare her, but she seems unique and charming. She is herself, which is a good thing.
Ham was the Norman at the performance I saw, and he was brazen, manic, frenetic, and many other words that can be added together to sum up a fantastic performance. Lanky, wide-eyed, and loose-limbed, he can double-take, react, and throw his entire body into any movement with split-second timing.
David Pierce has wrought a set that withstands multiple door-slams that would splinter lesser stage construction. The sea-foam green, with zigzagging wall accents in shades of yellow and orange, hint at a pre-hippy vibe. One of Marie Q. Kramer’s dresses for Tucker nears optical-illusion status. Evan Commins’ lighting provides marvelous scene changes as shapes accompany songs of the era.
Herring has taken a little-known part of the Simon legacy and brought it out as a light, shiny bauble, buffed with a nostalgic charm, and honed with crisp wit. It’s not going to cure cancer, but it will erase any blues in your heart. It’s Neil Simon, and you’ll laugh.
The Star-Spangled Girl is on stage at the 2nd Space Theatre at 928 E. Olive Ave. in Fresno. For tickets and further information, contact www.gcplayers.com, or call (559) 266-9494, or check out KRL’s Good Company Players event page.
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