Group: St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Venue: Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle
Dates: October 16, 17, 18
Tickets: From $18 to $25; contact 1-800-982-2787 or www.ticketmaster.com
Story: It’s summer time in the Poconos in 1953, and the Hines family is gathering at its seasonal retreat for what will turn out to be its final annual trek to the mountain resort area in northeastern Pennsylvania. Burt Hines has survived two heart attacks but lost a marriage as his workaholic habit has built a successful string of retail outlets around New York City but cost him his wife, Annie, who has remarried. Their only child, Josie, is now college age and about to break off her engagement to Harvard law student Kenny. Josie still has feelings for Kenny’s best friend, Ray, a golf club assistant pro and would-be novelist.
Turns out that this is going to be one hectic weekend, as ex-wife Annie has flown in from Paris, Hines household maid Clemma has learned that her wayward husband Lewis is returning after seven years, Ray’s ditzy model girlfriend Sammii is arriving and Josie’s Miami acquaintance, Vinnie Bavasi, has announced a surprise visit. As they say, complications ensue.
Highlights: Neil Simon has written 29 plays and five musicals as well as countless screenplays since his time as a staff writer for the legendary Your Show of Shows TV series in the mid-‘50s. He’s probably the most popular playwright in America as well as one of the funniest, although he has become increasingly dramatic through the years. Proposals is one of his later efforts, a 1997 flop on Broadway but a work that, while flawed, has quite a bit to offer to audiences.
St. Louis Actors’ Studio has kicked off its ‘Love and Honor’ season with a splendid presentation of this two-act journey into nostalgia under artistic director Milton Zoth’s finely calibrated guidance. The nine-player ensemble assembled by Zoth handles lines with aplomb and with the proper dose of exaggeration, avoiding slapstick and excess while still expertly conveying the humorous script.
Other Info: Whit Reichert anchors the story as kindly, sage Burt, who still carries the torch for his ex-wife while also doling out bits of fatherly advice to his daughter as he eavesdrops on her various conversations. Reichert’s comedy is dry and subtle, effectively contrasting the broader approach preferred by Meg Rodd as Josie, Aaron Orion Baker as Vinnie and Rusty Gunther as Kenny. The latter three all mine the motherlode of Simon’s rich comic nuggets with suitable flair, although Baker is saddled with an overabundance of malapropisms mouthed by Vinnie, very funny at first but eventually just weary overkill in the script.
There’s also very good work by Tyler Vickers as the dutiful Ray, whose love for Josie is held in check by his friendship with Kenny and his own lack of faith in himself. Alice Kinsella brings a nice bit of false bravado to Annie as she clumsily tries to reconnect with her daughter, and Choyce Johnson is the epitome of stability and common sense as Clemma, even as she finds herself attracted again to her wastrel husband. That latter role is played in fine, understated fashion by Eddie Webb, while Megan Vickers adds her own humorous touches to the part of vapid model Sammii, who finds a kindred spirit in Vinnie.
Once again, set designer Patrick Huber is able to convey a locale with expert precision on the minuscule Gaslight Theater stage, with some appealing touches offered by scenic artist Margaret Engel and Huber adding his own effective lighting. Robin Weatherall put together the amusing sound design and Teresa Doggett dresses the various characters in appropriate early ‘50s attire, highlighted by Vinnie’s amusingly garish garb.
This later Simon effort, while guilty of occasional overwriting as mentioned above, nonetheless provides some welcome seasoning of realism sprinkled into the familiar recipe of wise-cracking one-liners and silly situations, all finely realized in this tasty St. Louis Actors’ Studio entree.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.