I Ought to Be in Pictures -- Snappy production at Ivoryton Playhouse

By Amy J. Barry

I Ought to Be in Pictures was a mid-career comedy of Neil Simon’s that enjoyed a good run on Broadway in the late ‘70s before it was made into a motion picture directed by Herbert Ross in 1982.

The three-person ensemble is about what happens when Libby, a 19-year-old aspiring actress hitchhikes across country from Brooklyn to LA to meet Herb, the screenwriter father she’s been estranged from for 16 years. Her plan is to discover why her father abandoned her and her brother by moving 3,000 miles away and maybe break into the movies while she’s at it, using her father’s connections.

Although this contemporary comedy is more than 30 years old, the subject matter -- divorce -- is as current as ever. As unfortunate as it is that divorce is still so prevalent, it helps make the Ivoryton Playhouse production feel relevant rather than dated. The only thing missing is cell phones and texting.

The dialogue between Libby (Siobhan Fitzgerald) and Herb (Mike Boland) feels authentic and heartfelt. Fitzgerald has most of the funny lines in the play, which she delivers in a believable New York accent, such as relaying the conversations she has with her dead grandmother at her graveside.

It’s not easy living up to Tony Curtis, who played Herb in the play and Walter Matthau, who played the role in the film, but Boland is a natural as the curmudgeonly, commitment-phobic writer with writer’s block.

Herb gets his nose out of joint when Libby, who has no acting experience besides as an understudy in an Erasmus High School production of Miss Jean Brodie, has the chutzpah to ask him to help her get into “the pictures.” He thinks she’s just there to take advantage of him. She sees it as the least he can do after being out of contact for most of her life. A lot of verbal sparring -- both bittersweet and funny -- goes on between them.

The third role is Herb’s on and off again girlfriend, Steffy (Jeanie Rapp). Herb’s growing relationship with Libby forces him to confront his commitment issues with her. Rapp is well cast as the attractive and people-wise girlfriend who gives Herb good advice about how to be a better father to Libby. Steffy becomes increasingly tired of being in a relationship of convenience and Rapp could show more edginess and impatience in her delivery, which is a little too gentle for the message she’s giving Herb.

Although it’s a comedy, there are some moving scenes between father and daughter and in Neil Simon style, the characters show their warts, as well as their ability to grow and change and find forgiveness.

R. Bruce Connelly’s spot-on direction brings the production pleasingly together. Bill Stark has done a good job filling the Playhouse stage with Herb’s 70s style messy bachelor pad, nicely lit by Marcus Abbott. Kari Crowther’s fun costumes are appropriate to the time and place.

Performances of I Ought to be in Pictures continue through May 11 at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton. Tickets are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

This review appears in Shore Publishing community weeklies, and online at zip06.com and theday.com.

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