All men wish they could be Humphrey Bogart—the type of man that ladies swoon over, who can walk away from the beautiful female lead without ever looking back, leaving her with only memories of amorous adventures in exotic locales and one unforgettable parting line. But no one wants this more than Alan, the lead of Woody Allen’s “Play It Again, Sam.” His failure to live up to that ideal provided many of the laughs in the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club production of “Sam,” which started off slowly but used a couple of stellar performances to offer a very funny look at social insecurity and the ridiculous nature of modern courtship and love.
“Play It Again, Sam,” a production directed by Graham H. Lazar ’12 that ran from October 21 to October 23 at the Adams Pool Theatre, follows the love life of recently divorced Alan (Ben J. Lorenz ’14) as he tries to get back into the dating game with the help of his best friend Dick (Sam R. Peinado ’15) and Dick’s wife Linda (Lily R. Glimcher ’14). All the while he has imagined conversations in his head with the memory of his former wife Nancy (Maya S. Sugarman ’12) and a projection of Humphrey Bogart (James B. Danner ’12) that offers some less than helpful advice on love and women.
The actors have plenty of talent, but it took some time for them to hit their stride. Early on, Lorenz portrayed Alan as a caricature of Woody Allen, a decision which left the character sorely underdeveloped for the first half of the play. As the show progressed, though, Lorenz gained the self-confidence to add his own personal touch to the role, and as a result he became much more sincere and believable. Reducing the role to a cardboard cut-out is a difficult trap to avoid because the character—like most of Allen’s best protagonists—is obviously based on the author. That being said, the character is deep enough to allow for or even demand a personal twist. For large sections of the play Lorenz delivered his lines in an over-the-top New York accent that masked almost all of the expression in his voice. He dropped this affectation during an extended conversation with Linda, and for the first time we really began to understand the character’s emotions.
The real star of the show, though, was Jacqueline J. Rossi ’12, who played the assorted women that Alan pursues through the course of the play. She oscillated brilliantly between male fantasies of feminine sexuality in Alan’s daydreams and the far more down-to-earth women that he actually met on his dates. The effect was a hilarious contrast that both provided a foil for Alan’s social neuroses and illuminated some of his unrealistic expectations of women. Danner added to the overall silliness of the play with his comically overdone Bogart accent and a great parody of the actor’s trademark swagger. He was especially effective when he showed Alan how to break up with a woman—namely, by maintaining a cool reserve while accusing her of a double murder.
The directing ably reinforced the play’s comedic elements, often by accentuating Woody Allen’s gags with over-the-top slapstick comedy. Lazar made the most of Lorenz’s penchant for physical humor by throwing him over coffee tables and having him fling books around the stage, and it was these scenes that provided some of Lorenz’s first breakthroughs in character development. The same was true for the rest of the cast, for whom these physical interludes encouraged a move beyond intellectual banter into a more multifaceted exploration of their roles. For example, Peinado struggled to elaborate his character beyond a generic overworked business executive, but he stole the show with his farcical interpretation of a stereotypical wronged husband who invades the stage during one of Alan’s daydreams. His flamboyant gesticulations did not get in the way of some more subtle and nuanced body language during this scene. Peinado did not display this kind of subtlety elsewhere in the play, where it could have helped make Dick more of a standout role.
“Play It Again, Sam” was a light-hearted look at modern relationships with some standout comedic moments. Unfortunately, it took a while for the cast to muster the courage to endow their roles with unique personalities. The result was a mixed bag. Some of the scenes were both brilliantly funny and touchingly sincere, but the inconsistency of those qualities undermined the play’s overall impact.
—Staff writer Noah S. Guiney can be reached at email@example.com.