Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Stage

Heather Theatre handles ‘Baggage,’ a romantic comedy, with a light touch

TAMPA — It’s an absurd premise that could almost happen.

Two airline passengers get identical bags mixed up after a flight. They track each other down, and wouldn’t you know it, each is single and carrying fresh emotional scars. So begins Baggage, a comedy by Sam Bobrick, a television writer whose credits include Bewitched, the The Andy Griffith Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. If that resume seemed dated, it also connotes a sure hand. This script entertains by staying a half-step ahead of predictable, and by maintaining a light edge that stops short of frothy. I took in a dress rehearsal — the show opens Friday — which conveyed promise.

This couple doesn’t belong together, and at first show no signs of attraction. Bradley Naughton (Seth Goodfellow), a lawyer for the Internal Revenue Service, looks for grievances, starting with the bag his new acquaintance via chance encounter has filled with paperweights, which he manages to drag into her home.

Phyllis Novak (Margaret Murphy), who owns a calmer disposition, is a book editor who has "an amazing and overwhelming need to see how things end." As they compare notes in the living room, she reveals that she has perused a photo album from his wedding. It’s the opening salvo of one of the play’s funniest periods.

Director Ricky Wayne keeps the tensions sharpened and moving toward an outcome you might have seen coming. It doesn’t matter; Baggage is the kind of plot that would only be upsetting if it didn’t turn out with an eventual union.

That doesn’t mean the show lacks surprises. A psychologist, Dr. Jonathan Alexander, introduces himself midway through. He addresses the audience directly, an extension of his ambition to sell books. And layered in between comes Mitzi Cartwright, Phyllis’ friend who serves to complicate the romantic story line.

The Heather Theatre doubles as an acting school, which produces most of the players in its casts. The school founded by casting agent Kathy Laughlin and artistic director Ward Smith emphasizes a natural style embodied in the books of Eric Morris, a board member, starting with No Acting Please. It’s an approach that works particularly well in its intimate space, which holds a couple dozen seats at most.

Murphy is the most well-traveled of this foursome along that road. She sprinkles attitudes with a glance or a wave of her hand. Her vulnerability convinces, even as Goodfellow does his best to make his nervous wreck of a character annoying and ultimately endearing. He’s a romantic lead who cries a lot, goes through her box of tissues reminiscing about the wife who left him, yet finds small flaws in others.

"I don’t like you much at all," he says early on, a hint at the gulf that must be crossed by the show’s end.

Tarik Lewis, who plays Dr. Alexander, is a stand-up comedian making an acting debut at the Heather. His acting is a little rough around the edges, but he nails the comic ingredient, namely that in this world of neuroses, the psychologist is the only truly disturbed character. Aniria Turney, as Mitzi, is also a comic. Her low-key approach borders on the laconic but gets the job done.

There’s a key moment later on when Bradley drops a bombshell that ought to shake up the entire play. It’s supposed to be a heartbreaker and didn’t come off that way. (There is such a thing as avoiding overacting to a fault.)

Nonetheless, this is a pleasant show, a romantic comedy that still says something about the way we live and interact. As Phyllis opines, "We are desperate people."

And sometimes laughter helps.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.
Follow @torch437.

Comments
Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

TAMPA — The virtues of Dancing at Lughnasa, with which Jobsite Theater closes its season, are many. This drama by the celebrated Brian Friel opened in 1990 to much acclaim. It captures a family’s joys and sadnesses, and the quickness with which one s...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/15/18
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/16/18
Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

GULFPORT — Brianna Melton is as serious a ballet student as they come.By her junior year at St. Petersburg High’s International Baccalaureate program, she had already spent four summers training with ballet companies across the country and had narrow...
Published: 06/14/18
What’s on stage: The Illusionists, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ G. David Howard

What’s on stage: The Illusionists, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ G. David Howard

OPENING: DANCING AT LUGHNASAIrish playwright Brian Friel, who died in 2015 at 86, won’t be traveling anymore. But I’ll bet he packed a tidy suitcase. Dancing at Lughnasa, Jobsite Theater’s season closer, manages to address a lot of issues: race, reli...
Published: 06/13/18
Ruth Eckerd Hall tees up comedy, romance and Kristin Chenoweth for 2018-19 Broadway season

Ruth Eckerd Hall tees up comedy, romance and Kristin Chenoweth for 2018-19 Broadway season

Ruth Eckerd Hall rolls out a new lineup of musicals for its 2018-19 season, a mix of comedy, favorite musicals and romance."For the last 35 years, Broadway has always been a staple at Ruth Eckerd Hall," chief executive officer Zev Buffman said in a p...
Published: 06/12/18
A tense night at the Tony Awards ends in euphoria for Largo doctor Jeffrey Grove

A tense night at the Tony Awards ends in euphoria for Largo doctor Jeffrey Grove

Dr. Jeffrey Grove sat three-quarters of the way back from the stage at Radio City Music Hall, waiting for his moment. The Largo physician made the trip with family to New York for Sunday’s Tony Awards, where he hoped to see his investment in O...
Published: 06/11/18
Neal Boyd, ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner, dies at 42

Neal Boyd, ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner, dies at 42

SIKESTON, Mo. — Neal Boyd, an opera singer who won America’s Got Talent and dabbled in Missouri politics, has died. Scott County Coroner Scott Amick says Boyd died around 6 p.m. Sunday at his mother’s house in Sikeston. He was 42. Amick says Boyd had...
Published: 06/11/18
Parkland drama teens bring down the house with stirring performance at Tony Awards

Parkland drama teens bring down the house with stirring performance at Tony Awards

Members of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s drama team stole the show at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards Sunday night.The performance brought the crowd— many of whom were wiping tears from their eyes— to its collective feet at the Radio City Music ...
Published: 06/11/18
How a Largo doctor became a Tony-nominated Broadway producer

How a Largo doctor became a Tony-nominated Broadway producer

LARGO — Dr. Jeffrey Grove stitches up cuts, sets broken bones and treats infections, all of the things family doctors do every day. His father and grandfather did the same. Their diplomas in osteopathic medicine hang in his office near the antique ex...
Published: 06/08/18
Updated: 06/13/18