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Theater Review: "Play It Again, Sam"

Photo credit:
Adriana Zuniga Williams

Some guys need a little help getting dates. Film critic Allan Felix (aka Woody Allen) needs a personality makeover, or maybe a transplant. He’s just been divorced by his wife Nancy (when you observe one of their interactions, you’ll wonder what took her so long) and now this social flop is trying to get back into the dating game. 

He lives alone, getting useless advice from the ghost of his film hero Humphrey Bogart (Randy Coull) in comments like “Dames are simple. I never met one who didn’t understand a slap in the mouth or a slug from a .45.”

Fortunately, Felix is saved from himself by best buddy Dick Christie (Edgar Diaz-Gutierrez), who spends most of his time on the phone telling his office where he is and where he’s going. Well, actually by Dick’s wife Linda (Kelly-Noelle Henry), who sets Felix up with a succession of dates for him to ruin. 

“Play It Again, Sam” is the 1969 Woody Allen play that inspired the 1972 movie everyone remembers. OnStage Playhouse presents the stage version through Feb. 4, with Shane Ruddick Allen doing the honors as the hapless Felix.

Everyone can identify with with Felix’s problem – who hasn’t felt awkward and clumsy in a social situation? – but this lightweight play requires a featherlight touch to pull it off. Director Charley Miller has that touch, but opening-night jitters nearly did in the first act, with the actors trying so hard that much of the comedy seemed labored and unfunny. 

Fortunately, by the second act the cast relaxed into these crazy roles and the comedy began to hit its marks.

Allen is sufficiently hangdog and comically nervous as Felix, the guy who can talk his way out of any promising situation and imagine his way back in just as easily. 

Diaz-Gutierrez is perfect as Dick, the guy who means well but whose mind is always somewhere else.

Henry’s Linda is totally believable. Here’s the kind of girlfriend everybody needs.

Samantha Schmidt plays Nancy with a knowing touch (????) and several others amuse as the girls Linda fixes Felix up with.

But Coull has – shall I say it? – the coolest part, the Bogey we all love, skulking around and trying to shape up the hopeless blob that is Felix.

Chad Oakley’s set and lighting design work nicely, as do Pam Stompoly Ericson’s costume designs.

“Play It Again, Sam” is vintage Woody Allen. If by now it seems a bit dated, remember that the Felix character is still his stock in trade.

Oh, the title? It’s a perversion of the famous quote “Play it, Sam” famously uttered by Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca.” No, nobody ever said “Play it again, Sam” in that film.

The details

“Play It Again, Sam” plays through February 4, 2017 at 291 Third Avenue (near F Street), Chula Vista.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (619) 422-7787 or www.onstageplayhouse.org