A Dated "Itch"
By Geary Danihy
Some plays, like fine wine or great cheeses, age very well, but others, well, they are like soda pop left uncapped over the weekend -- they just lose their fizz. Such is the case with “The Seven Year Itch,” which recently opened at the Ivoryton Playhouse. This 1950s comedy about infidelity (real and imagined) and the male animal in frustrated heat is probably familiar to most theater-goers via the 1955 movie starring Tom Ewell and the skirt-fluttering Marilyn Monroe, but the play actually opened on Broadway in 1952 and ran for well over a thousand performances. Whatever allure and titillation…and comedy…the Broadway audiences saw back then that kept the play running for three years was, unfortunately, of the moment. What was funny...and risque -- back when Ike was president simply doesn’t get very far off the ground any more.
Did you know that many American males become sexually aroused at the sight of female breasts? Yes, it’s true. Are you aware that men fantasize more about sex than being the first-string quarterback of a pro football team? Can you believe that, after several years of marriage, many men’s amorous thoughts often stray away from the marriage bed? I know. Shocking!
Well, back in 1952 this was all heady stuff -- remember the first Kinsey Report was published in 1948, the second in 1953 -- and playwright George Axelrod was smart enough to capture the breaking news about male sexual behavior in his script. Unfortunately, 60 years later it’s very much old news.
There’s not much this very capable and game cast under the direction of Lawrence Thelen can do to breathe life into this chestnut that deals with one Richard Sherman (a very excitable and emotive David Conaway), an ad executive who works in the low-end of the publishing world. His wife, Helen (Emma O’Donnell) and son Ricky (Carson Waldron) have escaped the summer heat of Manhattan, leaving him behind to fend for himself. He’s on his best behavior -- no smoking, no drinking -- until a weighted tomato plant falls from the apartment above onto his patio. Ooops! It seems a 22-year-old model cum actress identified only as “The Girl” (Holly Holcombe) has moved in upstairs. She’s clumsy and a knock-out, so what would any red-blooded American male do in this situation? He invites her down for a drink – and immediately starts fantasizing about a possible conquest while, at the same time, agonizing over the guilt that would immediately engender and then, to assuage said guilt, fantasizes that his wife is having an affair with an author which, of course, justifies his wandering. Things are not helped by the fact that Roger is working on a book written by a psychiatrist, Dr. Brubaker (John Little), a tome that deals with rape and male aggression. And so it goes. Oh the blissful agony of it all.
Along the way, in semi-dream sequences, or flashbacks, or…well, call them what you will...we get Roger interacting with various other females in a Walter Mitty-like fashion: Miss Morris (Carolyn Cumming), Marie (Caitlin McInerney) and Elaine (Elizabeth Talbot). The women, again in a dream sequence, meet over tea to discuss Richard’s lecherous nature.
Richard’s passion, paranoia and guilt all proceed apace as he becomes more frantic and sexually frustrated, until...well...remember, this is 1952, when orgasm and guilt were often considered synonymous.
The ins and outs, highways and byways, ups and downs of male-female interaction that Ivoryton presented so delightfully in its previous production, “I Love You You’re Perfect…Now Change,” is here captured in fossilized form. As a sociological exercise -- this is what the 50s generation got all excited about -- it is interesting, but as comedy, well, it’s like listening to your Uncle Ralph tell the same joke he’s told for the last twenty years. You smile, but only out of politeness.
“The Seven Year Itch” runs through Nov. 17. For tickets or more information call 860-767-7318 or go to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.