Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Humor is primary goal in playtime politics — Romantic comedy lightens up election season

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

McCain vs. Obama. Liberal vs. conservative. A ukulele vs. a mop. Throw in a love triangle – or quadrangle, if you count the Marine – and you’ve got a Neil Simon play that could lighten up any election season.

Triumvirate Theatre’s production of Simon’s “Star Spangled Girl” fits the bill for relevant, yet light, summer entertainment.

“It’s so topical with the election, everybody’s clued in to this whole political scene. So it’s really fun with that,” said director Carla Jenness.

But don’t take “political” to mean “C-SPAN.”

“I didn’t think anybody wanted to sit in a big, heavy drama in the summer,” Jenness said, so a sharp Simon comedy was the perfect fit.

The play stars JR Cox, Justin Smith and Tatiana Butler, all Triumvirate veterans and graduates of Nikiski High School’s drama, debate and forensics program.

Cox and Smith play Andy and Norman, the struggling staffers of the ultra liberal protest magazine Fallout. Norman is a brilliant, if overly excitable, writing talent. Andy handles sales, business management and everything else required to scrape together enough money for the next issue — from answering the phone as a globetrotting array of ethnic restaurateurs to throw off a bill collector, to accompanying their daredevil elderly landlady on hazardous dates to delay their rent payments.

Butler plays Sophie, a conservative country girl new to the city who makes Norman swoon with her perfect earlobes and strong-smelling shampoo. When it becomes clear Sophie’s romantic inclinations and political views lie elsewhere, it puts Norman and Andy’s friendship, and the future of the magazine, at risk.

Jenness made a few updates to the script, like adding references to the current presidential race between John McCain and Barak Obama. But she didn’t have to do much to make it relevant, even though it was set four decades ago.

“The themes are basically the same. The divisions with people’s ideologies like they had in the ’60s, when this was written, we have today,” she said.

Simon’s quirky dialogue and physical humor also hold up well in a modern setting.

“That funny Neil Simon wordplay and slapstick, it isn’t really dated at all,” Jenness said. “We really didn’t have to change a whole lot to make it work.”

The play moves through three acts at a fast clip, with quick wit and fast-paced physical gags driving the momentum. That kind of humor can be challenging for actors, but the cast has the benefit of having acted together for years.

“We’ve done a lot of silly physical comedy with these guys before,” Jenness said. “All three have such good comic timing.

“And Neil Simon, that dialog of his, you just find something funny in it every time you see it.”
“Star Spangled Girl” will be performed at 7 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, and next week Aug. 15 and 16 at Triumvirate Theatre in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Tickets are $10 at the door or in advance at the Triumvirate Bookstore.

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