Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Seven Year Itch

Review of "The Seven Year Itch" published in The News Tribune, Feb. 9, 2007

When George Axelrod’s comedy “The Seven Year Itch” premiered in 1952, it was considered scandalously funny. Then came the 1955 movie starring Marilyn Monroe, which was about as naughty as a movie was allowed to be back then. The notorious Hays office -- movie censors -- forced them to tone it down considerably. They even had to change what had been an illicit love affair in the play to an imaginary affair.

But in 2007 the stage version, now playing at Tacoma Little Theater, is a rather mild affair. It’s funny, but the sting is gone. A farce about an illicit affair, actual or imagined, simply doesn’t carry the wallop it did back in the days when a glimpse of Marilyn Monroe’s panties caused censors to have heart attacks.

And Chris Cantrell is simply not the right actor for the part. Cantrell is a great comic actor. He was superb as Falstaff in “Merry Wives of Winsor” at Lakewood Playhouse and as Lancelot in Olympia Little Theater’s “Merchant of Venice” -- roles in which his broad comic styling worked perfectly. But he is not believable as Richard Sherman, the reluctant womanizer of this comedy. His nervous twitches are just irritating. I hate to see such a great actor so miscast.

The story is set in New York in the days before air conditioning was common. Back then, Manhattanites who had the wherewithal to do so escaped the summer heat of the city whenever possible. That often meant women and children spent time in beach houses while their husbands suffered through the heat of summer. Sherman (Cantrell) is a book publisher who markets cheap paperback books by coming up with enticing titles and lurid book covers. He is left alone in his Manhattan apartment while his wife Helen (Lisa LeVan) and son Ricky (voiced offstage by Harrison Deatherage) spend the summer at the beach. Under doctor’s orders, Richard has quit smoking and drinking -- although inexplicably there are cigarettes in a drawer and a fully stocked bar in his apartment. He’s bored and irritable, and he begins having fantasies about seducing women.

Then the twin demons of fate and temptation enter his life in the form of a flower pot accidentally dropped onto his balcony by the sexy upstairs neighbor (Emilie Rommel as “The Girl”).

The Girl is simultaneously alluring and innocent. She brags about posing nude for U.S. Camera and gushes that she keeps her “undies in the ice box” when it’s hot, yet it’s apparently not too hot for her to wear a fur stole when she goes out.
Sherman seduces The Girl, first in his imagination and then in reality. His infidelity, naturally, leads to feelings of guilt and the fear that his wife will somehow find out. (Somehow, like for instance that he might blurt out a confession.) So he talks it over with a psychiatrist (Michael Dresdner as Dr. Brubaker) whose book his company is publishing

Ninety-nine percent of the action in the play takes place in Sherman’s head as he argues with his own conscience (voiced off-stage of Joel Nicholas), fantasizes improbable sexual exploits, and justifies his affair by imagining his wife is having an affair of her own -- with his colleague Tom MacKenzie (also played by Nicholas). Some of Sherman’s constant rationalizing gets to be awfully tiresome, but the fantasy scenes are hilarious -- especially a wild seduction scene between Tom and Helen and a fantasy film-noir scene with Sherman and The Girl as Mike Hammer and his sexy secretary Velda.

Brett Carr’s lighting and scenic design features an authentic looking 1950s New York apartment, and the authenticity is augmented by Frances Rankos’ costume designs.
The supporting cast is excellent. Most outstanding are Dresdner as the stereotypical New York psychiatrist and Nicholas, who simply oozes slime as the lover who sweeps Sherman’s wife Helen off her feet. And Le Van displays great range of style as she plays the devoted wife, the tramp and the vengeful murderess. Her fantasy seduction scene with Nicholas is the funniest bit in the whole play. If awards were given out for individual scenes, this one would definitely be in the running.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 25
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $20.00 for adults, $18.00 for students, seniors and military, and $16.00 for children 12 and under
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281

No comments: