Theatre in the Round closes its season on an upbeat note. Downright perky, in fact. Even cute. Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn: It’s the kind of show for which a reviewer basically has half his or her job done without writing a word. You either like fluff or you don’t, and Simon, of course, is the immortal king of fluff. So much for being told whether it’s a show you want to see or not.
This is the play that gets credit (or blame) for having launched Simon’s career. If you’re a fan of the guy and never got around to seeing this one, it’s pretty interesting to see his first try at the kind of smart-aleck banter and pleasantly drawn figures that would come to characterize his craft. He’s always had a clever knack for engaging scripts never quite go anywhere but are so amusing you don’t mind not arriving. Consider Come Blow Your Horn the prototype.
|come blow your horn, presented through august 1 at theatre in the round. for information and tickets ($20), see theatreintheround.org|
Metropolitan man-about-town and general bow-bow Alan is surprised by his younger brother Buddy, a nice kid who’s tired of living with mom and pop and has just decided to become Alan’s house guest. Alan promptly gives Buddy a crash course in how to be just like big brother, from pulling the wool over women’s eyes in order to get them out of their clothes to an overall social life of fashionably wining and dining in the fast lane. Before Alan realizes what’s happened, he’s created a monster who is taking over the laboratory. Throw in their hard-working dad in whose eyes they’ve both become—if he says it once, he says it a half dozen times—bums. Plus their doting mom to whom they’ll always be her babies. You’ve got an impossible situation crying out for a catalyst to put things aright. That, ladies and gentlemen, turns out to be Connie, who is crazy about Alan but not stupid enough to go along with his flea-bitten philandering.
Nathaniel Nesheim-Case is deftly understated as Alan, and Tina Moroni works very well as Connie, alternating between swooning for the sliver-tongued Alan and resisting the temptation to dump him on his narcissistic butt. H. William Kirsch, as Alan and Buddy’s dad, conducts a clinic in Swiss-clock timing, making the absolute most of Simon’s material. Muriel J. Bonertz basically walks through the part of the boy’s mom, not leaving much of an impression.
The production’s glaring flaw is John Gaspard, who puts the cast through their paces: he couldn’t direct traffic. The characters are sufficiently fleshed out to carry the story, but Gaspard embellishes so broadly as to narrowly avoid turning the show into slapstick. He has Kate Elise, as not-terribly-bright sex kitten Peggy, lampoon a ridiculous caricature, and has Ben Stasny make an insufferably spastic nerd of Buddy. Elise and Stasny are so busy chewing the scenery, neither one is given much an opportunity to actually act. In one scene, Gaspard moves Moroni aimlessly to the point of distraction. For several false-start exits, she picks her coat up. And puts it down. And picks it up. And puts it down. You want to say, hey, lady, make up your mind. Then there’s an awkward cross for which instead of simply going to straight across the stage to her mark, Moroni has to circle half the playing area. Less really does make more, especially in terms of getting the best out of play instead of trying to improve on it with hackneyed antics and busywork.
Ultimately, though, if you like Neil Simon, you’re going to enjoy Come Blow Your Horn.