I have a long-standing love of Woody Allen’s work, (especially Without Feathers and many of his films, particularly Manhattan, Annie Hall, Love and Death, and The Purple Rose of Cairo). I have an even longer-standing love of Casablanca (although, in moments of honest self-reflection, I realize I’m more likely to have been S.Z. Sakall’s bartender, Carl, than either Bogart’s Rick Blaine or Henreid’s Victor Lazlo – but would have wanted the uniform of Claude Rains’s Louis Renault!)
Despite these loves, I’ve never seen Allen’s Play It Again, Sam (on stage or screen) until this past Sunday’s performance at Playhouse on Park (which runs through March 20th). Under the fast-paced direction of Russ Treyz (running time: 80 minutes, no intermission) and led by the very capable Zane Johnson as our hero “Allan Felix,” the cast brings this early’70’s piece alive in all its glory (and dated-ness).
Felix, a man on the rebound after his wife leaves him, turns to a cinematic muse to help him face the dating scene again. Felix’s best friend (hilariously portrayed by Dan Mantisa) and his wife (Marnye Young) are ultimately his salvation and help him send the film icon (Ted D’Agostino) packing. The effervescent Bethany Fitzgerald plays the myriad of women with whom Felix tries to connect and fails.
A play with a funny premise, well executed, and filled with what are now the archetypal Allen traits (the comic self-loathing, the hesitation, the therapy…), it nonetheless feels even older than Casablanca, from 30 years earlier. The source of the comedy, sex, is, on the one hand, tamer than the average episode of The Big Bang Theory, but, on the other, in at least one segment displays how much more enlightened (in a very good way) a society we have become. While I support producing scripts as they were written, the risk in a comedy is what happens when what was considered funny is no longer considered such. (While this represents just a very brief episode in the script, the audience’s universal reaction was telling.)
That aside, this well-appointed (as always) Playhouse on Park production offers a fine window into 1970, and how someone who would become one of the leading comic writers of his generation filters an earlier pop culture masterwork.
Most importantly of all, as spring seems to keep delaying its arrival, you’ll laugh – a lot.