The Seven Year Itch

At the Wilbur

The Seven Year Itch found the rainbow somewhere. Elliott Nugent and Courtney Burr tossed together some foul gags and spicy acting and came out with an unexplicably funny production, now at the Wilbur.

Technically, there is little to say in favor of this play. The dialogue, less clever than funny, is built around male lead Tom Ewell, a sort of poor man's Frank Faye who warms up in the second act and remains crisp from there on. But he is never an accomplished enough comedian to rise above the radiogag level of the script.

Author George Axelrod has given Ewell an admittedly tough part, full of long soliloquies which must be kept fresh lest the play become tedious. Ewell plays a junior executive whose seven year marriage is interrupted briefly when his wife and small son vacation to Cohasset.

When they are gone Ewell begins to think of the women he could have seduced in those seven years, and, with a halting bravado and a half-dozen scches depicting the tragic consequences of his folly, goes about seducing the girl who lives upstairs.

The play takes an audible second wind with the entrance of Vanessa Brown, captivating, as the pretty, lisping girl who wants very much to become a woman of the world. Her bubbling performance injects charm into an atmosphere of "funny stories for men," without being overdone.

Neva Patterson is capable as Ewell's wife, but the two other principles, Robert Emhardt and George Keane, both deliver lines as if they were reading something untasteful. Emhardt plays a psychiatrist whose text is being turned into a red-hot 25 cent seller by Ewell's pocket book company, but he ruins his lines, the only really accomplished part of the dialogue, with a bad case of dramatic insincerity.

Although The Seven Year Itch is a successfully amusing comedy, it achieves this effect despite a good deal of repetitious dialogue and too many unsatisfactory performances. It's thus dismaying to find Elliott Nugent's name listed as production supervisor, since he has turned out far better products than this.