Play: I Ought to Be in Pictures
Group: West End Players Guild
Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.
Dates: November 20, 21, 22
Tickets: $18; contact 314-367-0025 or www.westendplayers.org
Story: Herb Tucker grows his own oranges and lemons in the back yard of his place in Los Angeles. That’s about all he can develop these days, though, as writer’s block has struck the screenwriter with a vengeance. While long-suffering girlfriend Steffy entreats him to put his quick wit to good use by typing out his comic repartee, she also hints at more permanence in their relationship.
That’s nothing, though, compared to what Herb finds when an anxious young woman arrives unexpectedly at his doorstep. Her name is Libby, and she is the daughter he abandoned in New York City 16 years earlier, when Herb walked out on his wife, 3-year-old daughter and infant son. Now Libby, after consultations with her dead grandmother at the cemetery, has journeyed west in search of a career in the movies, expecting dear old dad to help her achieve her goal.
Highlights: I Ought to Be in Pictures, which premiered on Broadway in 1980, is the 18th play in the prolific Neil Simon canon, and one of several of his lesser performed works (Proposals, Laughter on the 23rd Floor) being produced in St. Louis this season. It features trademark Simon touches, including rapid-fire one-liners and his ability to develop characters and relationships within two acts and two brief hours.
Director Fay McKenna contributes a charming interpretation of this endearing little tale, thanks to a thoroughly delightful portrayal of Libby by Chrissy Young. Young unpacks her New York accent from the backpack that Libby schleps across country and ingratiates herself not only with her estranged father but also the audience. At turns vulnerable, demanding, charming and confused, she uncorks her portrayal of Libby like a fine wine that one consumes too quickly at first and then settles into savoring. It’s a spirited and superior performance.
Other Info: Mark Abels builds steadily throughout the show and delivers a winning and affecting portrayal of a middle-age man who has floundered emotionally for decades even while building a satisfactory career in a cutthroat business. He takes the archetypal Simon adult male character and fills Herb with some latent compassion and responsibility. Jane Abling completes the trio of players with a sufficient portrayal of Herb’s patient girlfriend, a woman with her own set of problems as she wrestles with her relationship expectations while she raising her own children.
McKenna keeps the show moving along pleasantly, and benefits from some nice scenic design work by Renee Sevier-Monsey, who replaces Herb’s somewhat tacky living room and kitchen with a spruced-up version in the second act, courtesy of Libby’s domestic touches, with notable assistance by set decorator Chris McGregor. Chuck Lavazzi’s sound design sprinkles in familiar background tunes, Anthony Anselmo provides the lighting and Russell Bettlach adds costumes.
It’s a charming little piece done effectively that provides a welcome chance to see one of Simon’s lesser known works.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.