Staging a Woody Allen classic that is almost 40 years old can be tricky even on a good day. A director has to walk the line between honoring a comic genius and allowing the actors to explore the script themselves, between jumping using contemporary references and updating a show for modern audiences.
Such were the issues facing this production's director, Alan Wilkie. The once-modern references about the ever-increasing hustle of life in the big city seem quaint when compared to the fixation about being connected at all times people of 2012.
An example of this can be found in the first few minutes of the show as Dick Christie (played by Jacob Tice) and his wife Linda (Alison Monda) pay a visit to Allan Felix's (Alex Smith) apartment after learning that his wife has filed for divorce after two years of marriage.
Dick is a businessman on the rise and finds himself needing to be tethered to his office at all hours.
"Let me tell you where you can reach me. I'll be at Gramercy 7-9205 for a while, then I'll be at Murray Hill 5-4774 for 15 minutes, then I'll be at Templeton 8-5548, then I'll be home, that's LE 5-8343," the script goes as he calls his office the minute he arrives to console his friend.
Now, some of us older folks might not even remember the days when phone numbers included words instead of just numbers. I know that many Lakewood phone numbers were the word "Juniper" followed by a set of digits. I know that largely because the Lakewood Florist sign on Gravelly Lake Drive next to the Lakewood Playhouse has its original sign listing that number. Downtown Tacoma's phone prefix, by the way, was Broadway.
A 30-something or 20-something theatergoer, however, might have no idea what the workaholic Dick is talking about on this strange communication device that has dials and is attached by a cord that runs to the wall. Now imagine that same scene with Dick handling a Bluetooth earbug and a "crackberry" cradled like the baby Jesus in his thumbs as he tweets with one and hand consoles his friend with the other. The first scene honors the script as it is while the latter might honor the intent by relating the idea with modern references. It is a debate directors deal with all the time since there is no right answer.
The script works as a middle-aged piece of comedy, while "modernization" might have ruined the mood by diving into uncharted waters. But it seemed some script changes could have been made to walk that line tighter than Wilkie trod.
The show plays out as Allan, a nerdy film review writer and a big lover of Humphrey Bogart (Matt Garry), finds himself on a series of dates as he strives to rebuild his post-divorce life. Entering from stage left is Bogart himself to provide him tips and guidance along his way to finding love. That road gets curvy since those dates include a quasi porn star and a go-go dancer before it winds its way into Linda's bedroom.
The acting was overall solid but seemed a bit slow to reach full steam. Once it got there, however, if was all-out quirky. Smith might as well have been Allen's brother from another mother. His acting owned the stage. Monda, as always, was multi-dimensionally charming and conflicted as the neglected wife.
Wilkie and set designer James Venturini did well with staging the show to play off the theater's in-the-round design that allows audience to see the show from all four sides. The television that was facing away from the main seating section, for example, actually was playing the classic "Casablanca" scene heard over the sound system. I just love that detail. Kudos.
"Play It Again, Sam" continues at the Lakewood Playhouse in Lakewood Towne Center with shows at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays through Feb. 12, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. There is also an actors' benefit performance at 2 p.m. on Feb. 11. For more information, call the box office at (253) 588-0042 or go online at LakewoodPlayHouse.org.