Originally created 08/15/97

Review: Young actors do credible job with Simon comedy



The Fort Gordon Dinner Theater's latest production takes us back to 1966, where the lives of two earnest activists are confused when they encounter The Star Spangled Girl.

Their San Francisco flat quakes with emotion when both fall for this young woman. Energetic Justin Bennett plays Norman Cornell, the brilliant but eccentric writer of Fall Out magazine, a manifesto critical of the government. Editing the magazine is the responsibility of Andy Hobart, played by Christopher Overly.

All is well between these two Dartmouth-educated subversives until the beautiful and patriotic Sophie Rauschmeyer moves in next door. Jena Ward portrays the stellar Sophie, an Olympic swimmer still smarting from her losses in Toyko but happily engaged to a Marine lieutenant back home in Honeycut, Ark.

Playwright Neil Simon entangles this trio of misfits and then lets us smile at their budding affections. The real joy is in watching those sparks begin. Brainy Norman falls dumbstruck the moment Sophie arrives at the door. But his stalker tactics with telescopes and garbage searches soon have her convinced that he's "crackers."

The magazine's credo is "A Remedy for a Sick Society," and Norman becomes one twisted typist. So naturally Sophie falls for Andy instead, even though she considers his political ideas traitorous.

Act II is the best in the show, with the mating dance of these two opinionated opposites leading to their inevitable embrace. Is this the end of a three-year friendship? Will they change the name of the magazine to Falling Out?

This play is like Friends, with a smaller cast, or Three's Company, with better writing. And that seemed to be the problem on opening night. These beautifully crafted speeches too often were tripped up by the young performers, who need to pace their words as well as they do their actions.

Similarly, Steve Walpert designed a splendid multi-level backdrop for the complicated motions on stage, but it looked for all the world like it needed a good second coat of paint.

The pleasure is in watching the compulsive Norman battle the demons of love, the dependable Andy realize his vulnerability and the Minnie Mousevoiced Sophie develop into a huntress.

Throughout the play, Mr. Simon refers to the smell of the physical attractions these fumbling friends develop for one another. With three such talented players, the smell of a HIT will waft from the Fort Gordon dining room.

- John Elliott is an associate professor of art history at the University of South Carolina-Aiken.

On stage

What: The Star Spangled Girl
When: Friday and Saturday nights through Aug. 23. Dinner begins at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8.
Where: Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre
How much: $22-$25. Cabaret seating $15
Phone: 793-8552