Back in 1935, a play called Boy Meets Girl opened on Broadway and became an instant hit. A slapstick comedy that poked fun at Hollywood, it offered America some lighthearted relief at the height of the Great Depression. Now in the '90s, American Stage hopes revival of the show can help pierce today's malaise. "This play is credited with saving Broadway in the recession," said the company's artistic director, Victoria Holloway. "And here we are in a recession."
Implicit in these remarks is a dual purpose. Certainly the 12-year-old professional company hopes for sell-out performances that can help it cope during troubled times. But its production, scheduled to run June 7-30 at the American Stage Theater, also promises to give audiences an evening of escape, a two-hour journey back in time to Hollywood's glamorous heyday.
The play, written by the husband-wife team of Bella and Samuel Spewack, is a biting satire, complete with frantic producers, vain (but inept) actors, hack writers and blond bimbos. Its title is a jab at the formulaic writing endemic to an industry that notoriously subordinates art and honesty to profits.
And its dizzying plot revolves around the big-hearted but pea-brained Susie, a commissary waitress at a movie studio, whose illegitimate baby suddenly becomes an overnight star. Soon, everybody in the studio is scheming to win the baby's lucrative contract, making Susie the unwitting eye of a raging storm.
As outrageous as this all sounds, Holloway says the Spewacks, who were journalists before playwrights, have merely recreated Hollywood's wheeling-and-dealing habits, albeit with a great deal of imagination and wit.
"It is an accurate portrayal," Holloway said, "of what a machine it was."
Through lavish attention to detail, the company's set designer, Barton Lee, has also recreated the Hollywood of yesteryear. The set depicts the office of a producer at Royal Studios, decked-out from floor to ceiling in peach and blue art deco, with vintage photos of '30s stars, an Oscar statue on the desk, and the famous H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D sign hovering in the background.
The action begins with a sole actor who strolls onto the set to play the piano, lulling the audience into the self-contained world on stage. Then the journey begins. The actors begin delivering rapid-fire lines with the stamina of athletes.
Sarah Peacock, who reads her lines in the squeaky, high-pitched voice of a child, is masterful as Susie. Patrick Boyington gives the part of the producer Mr. Friday an edge of delectable wickedness. Robert Thompson and John Huls never miss a beat as they fire story ideas back and forth like cowboys with pistols. Jim Wisniewski is hilarious as the totally untalented English actor who eventually wins Susie's heart. And Charlie Kevin gives a finely controlled performance as the insufferable Larry Toms, a washed-up actor.
But perhaps most credit is due to the co-directors Victoria Holloway and John A. Berglund, who have somehow managed to scale a Broadway production down to fit into a space with only 110 seats. Although slapstick comedy is always risky, the show works because the actors don't overdo their stereotypes. And truly authentic costuming lends credibility to their characters.
Boy Meets Girl in itself represents a chapter in theater history. After its 1935 opening, it became one of the longest-running shows on Broadway, with 669 performances. When it was made into movie, Ronald Reagan was cast in a bit role _ the radio announcer.
The play's only drawback is that the tricky plot can sometimes lose you. Nevertheless, American Stage's production of an old classic is as sophisticated as satin, as polished as black lacquer.
Boy Meets Girl
Cast: Robert Thompson, Charlie Kevin, John Huls, Scott Edmonds, Patrick Boyington, Margaret Rasnick, Marcelle Oldershaw, Jim Wisniewski, Tom Eldon, Ricky Wright, A. Paul Johnson, Sarah Peacock, John Godbout, E. Nevin DeTurk, Kay Hill.
Co-Directors: Victoria Holloway, John A. Berglund
Playwrights: Bella and Samuel Spewack
Set Design: Barton Lee
Costume design: David Malcolm Bewley
Lighting Design: Richard Crowell
Presented June 7-30 at American Stage. For ticket information call 822-8814.