Review: "Play It Again, Sam"

Lakewood Playhouse reinvigorates standard Woody Allen neuroses

By Joe Izenman on January 31, 2012

My wife was thoroughly unexcited about seeing Play It Again, Sam at Lakewood Playhouse. She's insisted for quite some time - or at least any time we look at comedies to rent or talk about seeing Midnight In Paris - that she hates Woody Allen movies. What's more, she'd seen the film of Play It Again long ago, and hated that as much as anything else Allen had done.

My argument through all of this has been she probably doesn't hate Woody Allen scripts so much as she hates Woody Allen - a sentiment I don't necessarily hold to, but can certainly appreciate.

So it's a testament both to me being right, and to Alex Smith's talent at bringing characters to life in his own way, that she turned to me at intermission of Lakewood's Play It Again and said, "Wow, this is a lot better when Woody Allen's not in it."

I haven't seen the film version of Play It Again, but I'm confident I know exactly what old Woody's version of Allan Felix is like, and Smith's rendition is a healthy departure from the type. Like most of his recent roles - Hamlet in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, Vice Principal Panch in Spelling Bee, and others - Smith brings a flailing, manic quality to the typically depressed set of standard Allen neuroses, allowing injections of slapstick throughout.

Felix's romantic tribulations after his wife walks out form the core of the story. He experiences a series of romantic flubs and faux pas in his desperate attempts to convince women he is not the loser he thinks he is. Providing rather suspect advice throughout - "Well, I'd have shlapped her around a little more" - is a vaguely caricatured Humphrey Bogart, played with hat, trench coat, cigarette and an "h" after every "s" by Matt Garry.

Alison Monda's Linda Christie provides a more reasonable source of assistance. As Felix's best friend's model wife, she harbors many of his quirks and neuroses, albeit under more subdued control, and does her best to discourage his failing attempts to disguise his personality.

In the interest of curiosity we forewent the usual main seating area to see just how well Lakewood's attempt at theater in the round played. For the most part the show was blocked quite well, and we did not feel left out of the action. However, there are a few moments, convergences of Felix's inner monologue and Smith's penchant for spasmodically tortured faces, where we had clearly missed something that the other side quite enjoyed.

All told, however, there were more than enough laughs in the script and performance for all sides, compressed into a remarkably short runtime - less than two hours including intermission. Lakewood's Play It Again, Sam proved to be a great deal of fun for everybody involved.

Play It Again, Sam

Through Feb. 12, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
"Actor's Benefit, Saturday, Feb. 4 at 2 p.m., $17-$23      
Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center, Blvd., Lakewood