Laughter Fills the Air at The Stagecrafters: Woody Allen’s PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

by Ginger Agnew
Jim Broyles, Mare Mikalic, James Lewis in PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM.

Jim Broyles, Mare Mikalic, James Lewis in PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM.

‘Play it again, Sam’ is an infamous, and yet misquoted, quote from an equally infamous film, Casablanca. PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM is a comedic play written by Woody Allen. Lest the two not be any further confused, PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM, in which the neurotic leading man models his behavior after the character of Rick Blaine from the 1942 film Casablanca, is currently playing at The Stagecrafters in Chestnut Hill. Rick Blaine is widely considered one of the smoothest and most debonair leading men of the film age. His mystery and sacrifice make him an oft discussed character in film classes. Woody Allen is certainly a genius, but is not considered smooth or debonair. Yet in a constant search for those traits, his characters frequently turn out as just that.

James Lewis captures the Woody Allen persona as the neurotic, women repellant, nerdy, leading man, Allan Felix. Breathless, stumbling, fidgety, and stressed, Lewis portrays all of the physical traits of a lovable lunatic. Using broad physical humor, vocal tension, and sight gags, Lewis is a natural to fill the shoes of this character penned by the legendary Allen. Lewis delivers the goods on all levels during a demanding performance, centering around his character.

Rounding out the cast, Linda Christie (Mare Mikalic) and Dick Christie (Jim Broyles) appear as the best friends of Felix, filling the emotional gap left by his recently departed wife Nancy (Julia Wise). Mikalic portrays a sympathetic neurotic. Her neuroses are more quietly endured than those of Felix, but the two find a kinship in sharing symptoms and remedies. As Linda, Mikalic allows her character to unfold delicately and unpretentiously. She is likable. It is easy to side with her and understand her faults. Broyles brings the capitalist Dick Christie to life through stiffness and the unyielding need to keep in touch with his office. Dick’s character transition is unexpected and heartfelt. Both Mikalic and Broyles are afforded the opportunity to have fun with their out-of-character moments during the frequent daydreams of Felix. Neither wastes the opportunity. They both bring tension, humor and resulting belly laughs.

Mare Mikalic, James Lewis, (standing) Jeff Ragan in a scene from The Stagecrafters' PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM.

Mare Mikalic, James Lewis, (standing) Jeff Ragan in a scene from The Stagecrafters’ PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM.

Another frequent guest of the daydreams of Felix is Bogey, Humphrey Bogart (Jeff Ragan). Ragan does an admirable job of imitating Bogey and also allowing his own character interpretation to shine through. Nancy appears as both flashback and figment. Wise is full of brashness, bringing humor to the New York wife. Cameo performers Laura Betz, Hayley Manion Smith, Ana-Maria Arkan, and Karen Binder all bring a variety of strong characters to life in brief moments throughout. No easy task. All are to be applauded.

The script is tricky with flashbacks, daydreams and real life moments all portrayed in the same living room. David Flagg shows a strong hand and soft touch in his direction. Flagg juxtaposes well with entrances and exits, costume and lighting changes and musical interludes. Flagg and assistant director John Reardon use staging, costuming, props, set decoration, and music beautifully to signify the setting and time. With clear ideas and concept Flagg and Reardon also obviously allowed actors time to play and make discoveries of their own. This leads to a more creative and solid outcome. The set and scene crew, along with the prop, makeup and hair crews are all on top of their game with this period piece. To many, 1968 may not seem like a period needing old props and costumes, but it is. Not overbearing or distracting, the props and set suggested the time perfectly.

Comedy is difficult to do. Bringing distinct characters to life through comedy is never easy. Leading audiences on a journey from the first awkward introductions, to intimacy, through belly laughs may seem like a job the script does alone, but it is not. This ensemble cast, led by the talents of James Lewis and under the hand of Flagg and Reardon makes the journey a special one. The Stagecrafters begins summer with just the right romp.  Here’s looking at you, kids.

by Woody Allen
Directed by David Flagg
Assistant Directed by John Reardon
June 14-30, 2013
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM
Sundays at 2 PM
The Stagecrafters
8130 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19118


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1 comment

Celeste Mays June 24, 2013 - 9:03 pm

These quotes encapsulate Allen’s philosophy – he undercuts his own existential angst with absurd humour that provides distraction or comic relief and is in its own way an answer to these unanswerable questions. It is almost as if he is sending up the more austere philosophers who formulated these enquiries. His films are largely comedies – but, as one of his characters maintains, what is comedy but tragedy, plus time? (5) The spectre of death haunts many of Allen’s films, as thanatos, the essential flipside to the forces of life and love that are irresistible.

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