Monday, November 4, 2013

Theater Review: The Seven Year Itch -- Ivoryton Playhouse

David Conaway and Holly Holcomb. Photo: Anne Hudson
This Farce Gets Stuck Somewhere in the 1950s
By Lauren Yarger
Ivoryton Playhouse concludes its 2012-2013 season with The Seven Year Itch by George Axelrod.

The play isn’t produced that often and after seeing this production, we know why. The theme of a husband going through a mid-life crisis and considering a fling is still just as contemporary as when it was written in 1952 and when Marilyn Monroe’s white dress poofs up over a subway grate in the Billy Wilder movie version, but the play’s structure anchors it firmly in the 1950s.

Publisher Richard Sherman (David Conaway) is left on his own at their Gramercy Park apartment when his wife, Helen (Emma O’Donnell) and son, Ricky (Carson Waldron) leave for to the summer at the beach. His fantasizes about some of the women who might have been attracted to him in the past: Miss Morris (Carolyn Cumming), Elaine (Elizabeth Talbot) and Marie Whatever-Her-Name-Was (Caitlin McInerney).

He doesn’t have fantasize any more, however, when he encounters his new upstairs neighbor, a very buxom and attractive younger model, known only as The Girl (Holly Holcomb). When her tomato plant tumbles onto his terrace (the nicely appointed apartment is designed by Daniel Nischan), Richard has the perfect excuse to invite her over for a drink.

He feels guilty and confesses his temptation to an expert on the subject, psychiatrist Dr. Brubaker (John Little), who comes over to discuss his manuscript for “Of Sex and Violence.” The Shermans have been married for seven years – a common point when husbands stray, Brubaker says – and especially understandable when Richard produces a book featuring a nude photo of the girl.

Richard starts fantasizing that his wife really has left him for the summer to have a torrid affair with Tom MacKenzie (Jason Naylor), a friend who has made no secret his attraction for Helen – especially when she wears a cocktail frock with no back and not-too-much in the front (Kari Crowther designs the costumes). The fantasy segments are lighted in red tones (Marcus Abbott, design) where Richard talks with a devilish version of the voice on his shoulder urging him on. For Richard, it comes down to a choice of doing something and regretting it or not doing something and regretting it.

Feeling justified because of his wife’s imagined infidelity, Richard goes out with the girl and they end up in bed. He then fantasizes that the girl will a) fall in love with him b) blackmail him and c) embarrass him and tell his wife. He also fantasizes about what Helen will do if she ever finds out. The smile on Helen’s face as she takes pleasure in dealing with her husband’s betrayal was the highlight of this not-really-a-farce for me. Just brilliant, Emma O’Donnell.

The play is just too creaky to make traction in 2013. The publishing field has changed so much, for example, that Richard’s comments about publishing a new version of “The Scarlett Letter” with a cigarette-smoking Hester Prynne wearing a dress cut so low that there’s no room for the “A” and the book’s costing a couple of quarters, send us right back to another era.

The structure is annoying – all this fantasizing and talking to voices. At one point The Girl also talks to a disembodied voice. Her conscience? Who knows? And the kiss of death here, is that Director Lawrence Thelan allows a creeping pace where the two-hour run time with an intermission makes us itch and feel like it’s been more like seven years. There are a few laughs, but that doesn’t equal farce.

The Seven Year Itch continues at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton, through Nov, 17. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets: $40 for adults, $35 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children: (860)-767-7318; www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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