Theatre Western’s fall play this season is Woody Allen’s Play it Again, Sam. To give you all a quick intro to the piece, this comedy centers on Allan, who has recently been left by his wife and is looking for love in New York City in the late 1960s. Allan’s two best friends, Dick, and his wife, Linda, coax Allan through the process of dating. This process is helped along (or hindered) with the introduction of Allan’s “shoulder angels”: his idol, Humphrey Bogart, and his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Nancy.
The first half of the play focuses heavily on the development of the characters. Allan, played by River Ewing, paces back-and-forth across the stage, caught up in relentless—and ridiculous—neurotic fantasies. Almost all of Allan’s dialogue is monologue. He talks about his failed marriage quite a bit, and a brilliantly done lighting cue signals a flashback of Allan’s wife (Erica Seetner) ending their marriage. All of the monologues are perfectly delivered, and River deadpans through the trademark Woody Allen offhand remarks like a champ. Frankly, every one of his lines takes a turn that you did not expect, and you can’t help but chuckle every time.
The entrance of Humphrey Bogart, played by Jack Copland, blurs the line between reality and fantasy. There is no lighting cue here, but the costume right out of a 1940s film noir signals to the viewer that Allan is still caught up in a fantasy. Bogart functions as the “good angel” in this piece, constantly reassuring Allan of his eventually success with “the dames.” Everything about Bogart—from the accent and lingo, down to the (vapour) cigarette—was hilarious and Jack did a phenomenal job embodying the spirit of Bogie.
Next we meet the other two apexes of this story’s love triangle: Dick, played by Connor Lamoureaux, and Linda, played by Helen Heikkila. The first half of this scene is almost entirely brilliant banter between Allan and Dick. The pace at which River and Connor manage to deliver their lines is astounding, and this quickly becomes one of my favourite elements of the play. During this exchange, we see Linda running all around the stage, tidying up the house. The use of space is very visually engaging, and the constant background movement is a nice break from the downstage seated dialogue.
The plotline becomes pretty straight forward once Linda is introduced, and you soon realize that she is a carbon copy of Allan. To describe her husband, as my first year student so eloquently put it during the intermission: “Dick, he’s a dick!” I always consider it a sign of a good actor if they can make me dislike their character, and Connor does a great job of capturing this self-absorbed and absentee husband.
The next section of the play features a rapid-fire series of hilariously uncomfortable attempts on Allan’s part to score a date. For fear of spoiling all of the fun of these scenes, I will just say that these failed dates lead to the conflict of the central love triangle of the piece. Re-enter Bogart and Nancy to confuse Allan, and a series of fantasy scenarios with Linda—and the occasional murder—to bring us to the closing scenes.
The cast and crew did an amazing job transitioning seamlessly from fantasy to reality, and whatever you want to call those scenes with Bogart and Nancy. The lighting and sound cues were spot-on, and the only error of dialogue I caught was totally missed by my friend—so who really cares? The ever-quickening banter between all the characters was incredible, and you could almost feel the verbal whiplash coming off of the exchange between Dick and Allan near the end of the piece. The costumers deserve a shout out for every piece of the wardrobe, but especially for that dorky red vest that Allan wears after the intermission and the blinding go-go dancer get-up. The set design was stunning, and the use of the many different entrances (and one rather memorable exit) was incredibly engaging. The comedy of the piece progresses from Allan’s early dry asides to the belly-laugh inducing sarcasm from Bogart. The physical comedy of the second half of the piece is worth the price of admission alone!
Play it Again, Sam runs from November 20th-22nd at the McManus theatre. Tickets are available through the Grand Theatre Box Office and at Western Connections.