IF YOU GO
What: Radical magazine writers get involved with a Southern beauty in 1960s San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. July 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21.
Where: 2200 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel
Cost: $15 adults; $5 for children 17 and younger
Information: BIG ARTS Marks Box Office at (239) 395-0900, Strauss Theater box office at (239) 472-6862 or bigarts.org
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
SANIBEL — What better way to celebrate the fifth of July than with Neil Simon's "The Star-Spangled Girl?" BIG ARTS rolled out the red, white and blue for the second installment of its community theater series Thursday, down to the bunting in the lobby and plates of patriotic (and delicious) sugar cookies.
The comedy was tasty too.
Simon wrote the lightweight comedy in the mid-1960s. Unlike his many neurotic New Yorkers, "Star-Spangled Girl" takes place in San Francisco. Radicals Andy Hobart and Norman Cornell get involved with beautiful Southern Olympic swimmer Sophie. The resulting love triangle threatens to ruin their friendship, her apartment and everyone's lives.
The original play ran for three acts. BIG ARTS chops some of Simon's chattering dialogue and endless exposition to bring the show in under two hours.
"Star-Spangled Girl" wasn't Simon's best work. While the playwright knew relationships, his radical liberal versus Middle America conservative dialogue - especially as anchored in the polarizing discourse of the '60s - feels forced and dated. The "love meets politics" plot and contrived events never feel as relatable as his other works.
Still, director June Koc and her cast produce an easily digestible, chuckle-filled evening that zips along on winds of whimsy, scads of silliness and lots of smart people talking very excitedly about love, politics and tiny kumquats.
Some of the best moments in "Star-Spangled Girl" come when the Koc gets her cast to fully realize the frivolity of the piece; it is, after all, hippie San Francisco of the 1960s. Whether the boys are chasing each other around the apartment while Norman professes his love for Sophie, Sophie fighting off Norman's advances (including a tangle in the broom closet) or the forbidden kiss when the wrong person pops out for wine - the antics make the show.
Jason Boeckman (Norman) brings a gallant goofiness to his writer Norman. His hyperactive, panting, breathless, crawl-on-the-floor, roll on the couch anticipation of Bianca de Sanctis's (Sophie) arrival is one of the night's funniest moments.
While the whims of community theater casting coughed up the raven-haired, pixie-like de Sanctis to play "gorgeous, cornfed Arkansas blonde" Sophie, the young actress makes it work. She dishes out a credible Southern accent and goes toe-to-toe on comedy with the boys. Kelly Greten (Andy) brings appropriate droll snark to his more serious businessman.
The show perhaps needs another gear or three. The actors know their parts and they're convincing as the characters they're playing - but I'd like to see just a little more madcap action on the set. The wildly incredulous love triangle Simon crafted lends itself to goofiness - and only a few scenes take advantage of that. Still, there were plenty of chuckles to be heard throughout the night.
"The Star-Spangled Girl," along with May's "Marriage is Murder," are the first of BIG ARTS's revived community theater series. The BIG ARTS Community Players will use local amateur actors and be distinct from the professionals that put on shows like the upcoming "Plaid Tiding" and "Spamalot" at the BIG ARTS Herb Strauss Theater.
Looking for a dose of hippie San Francisco and a love triangle that will send you running for a protractor? Check out "The Star-Spangled Girl" out on Sanibel. There's a flag-waving girl in a swimsuit - and two guys after her!
San Francisco? San Diego? Or San Antonio? Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.