Friday, January 27, 2012

Hilarious antics keep laughs coming during Lakewood Playhouse production

Top: Alison Monda as Linda Christie and Alex Smith as Allan Felix star in “Play It Again, Sam” from Lakewood Playhouse.
Bottom: Alison Monda, Alex Smith and Matt Garry as Bogey.
Photos courtesy Lakewood Playhouse

The New Tribune, January 27, 2012

“Play It Again, Sam” at Lakewood Playhouse is in many respects a typical Woody Allen tale, full of urban angst and featuring a frustrated and bumbling Woody Allen avatar. It’s a small comedy of romantic absurdity filled with hyperbole and wittily pseudo-sophisticated dialogue.

Allan Felix is a neurotic writer who is recently divorced and on the hunt for romance, but he’s a bumbling sack of nerves who falls apart in the presence of women. If only he could be as cool as his hero, Humphrey Bogart. On disastrous dates and in his fertile imagination, he asks himself what Bogey would do, and Bogey materializes to goad him like a devil on his shoulder, whispering, “Make your move. Kiss her.”

With over-the-top slapstick and situations that stretch reality beyond imagination, this is a play that could easily fall into the abyss of stupidity. It skirts the edge of enough’s enough, but it’s saved by outstanding acting by the two major characters, Alex Smith as Allan and Alison Monda as Linda Christie, Allan’s confidant and the wife of his best friend.

Smith is a master of physical comedy. His pratfalls are worthy of Dick Van Dyke and his facial contortions are in the mold of Jerry Lewis and Jim Carrey (but not quite that rubbery). From the opening scene when he flops on his couch to watch “Casablanca” on television, we see the entirety of his personality in the way he moves his body. His comedy is very much in his body, the sometimes shockingly unexpected wild moves and perfect timing. There are moments, however, when he pushes the edge of overacting, especially when he shouts, which he does a lot. But just when you’re ready to say, “Come on, enough’s enough,” he goes even further over the top with insanely hilarious moves, and it works.

Monda also can go all out. Throughout the first act and halfway into the second, she is calm and controlled. She plays her part with understatement, and projects sincerity and genuine empathy. She seems so natural in the role that she appears not to be acting at all. Watching her you feel that at last here is a character who is real and sensible, and anchor for all the ridiculousness of the other characters. Then there’s a fantasy love scene between Linda and Allan that shatters that illusion, in which Monda lets loose her considerably wild comedic acting skills. What a wonderful scene.

Matt Garry pops in and out as the imaginary Humphrey Bogart. OK, he’s no Bogey. In fact, Smith does a better take on Bogey when he quotes a line from “Casablanca.” So Garry turns Bogey into a straight man setting up Smith’s comic antics.

Jacob Tice plays Allan’s best friend, Dick – a not very enviable role, since most of what he does is make stupid telephone calls. Dick is not a likable character. He’s blustery and self-important and he ignores his wife, and Tice rushes through his lines with very little inflection – which is the way the character was written, so it’s not bad acting so much as a boring character who finally, near the end of the play, drops his guard and becomes human.

Ronee Collins is enjoyably sassy as Allan’s ex-wife, Nancy. The remaining characters are Allan’s dates and fantasy lovers (Portia Stacy and Katelyn Hoffman). They are funny when they’re vamping, but otherwise rather flat characters.

The set, lighting and sound are all underplayed with the only lighting effect being a dull red glow for the fantasy sequences. The best thing about the set is the inclusion of two gigantic movie posters – Bogart movies, of course. There’s a third poster in the lobby and all three will be auctioned off as a fundraiser for the theater. The highest bidders will get to take home a unique memento.

“Play It Again, Sam” is short for a two-act play, zipping by at about 90 minutes and seeming even shorter, so hang onto your seats and enjoy the ride. It is a lot of fun.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 12
Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
Tickets: $23, $20 seniors and military, $17 students younger than 25
Information: 253-588-0042,

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