THE STAR-SPANGLED GIRLBy Neil Simon
Theatre of North Texas
Directed by Erynn Michelle and Branson White
Stage Manager – Anna Jo Windle
Assistant Stage Manager – Kyle Story
Costume Design – Danielle White
Alterations – Julie Molina
Stage Crew – Rachel Weber
Set Design – Branson White
Sound Design – Nathan Griffin
Lighting Design – Branson White
Properties Design – Elaine Plybon
Andy Hobart – Jason Barnett
Norman Cornell – Jake Blakeman
Sophie Rauchmeyer – Caitlin Ferguson
Reviewed Performance: 7/5/2019
Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Simon’s play takes us to San Francisco, circa 1966, and into the apartment of Andy (Jason Barnett) and Norman (Jake Blakeman). Together they publish ‘Fallout’, a radical leftist magazine critical of the United States government. Norman is the writer and Andy spends most of his time evading phone calls from an angry publisher demanding payment and acquiescing to the landlady’s desires in order to avoid paying the rent. Into their world comes Sophie Rauchmeyer (Caitlin Ferguson), a patriotic small-town girl who had competed as a swimmer for the US Olympic team in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Sophie introduces herself to her new neighbors and chaos ensues.
Norman is hopelessly smitten and stops writing to indulge in outrageous romantic gestures that end up annoying and embarrassing Sophie. Andy tries to get Norman to work so they can put out the magazine and keep their creditors at bay. Sophie tries to maintain her sanity amidst the craziness while counting down the days till she marries her fiancé, a Second Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps. And the audience is caught up in all of this, wondering which of the two young men will end up with the girl at the end.
I need to say upfront that I did not care for the script. I have seen a great deal of Neil Simon’s work on stage and screen and this particular play did not work for me. I had not seen a production of the play before, and I thought that Theatre of North Texas did a decent job of mounting it. But the script did work against them. It just doesn’t have the snap that much of Simon’s work has. The idea of opposites, in this case ideological opposites, being attracted to each other was well worn when this play was originally produced in 1966, and in this case, it has not aged very well. The script feels very contrived and mechanical and the patriot vs. radical motif didn’t generate much spark.
Directors Erynn Michelle and Branson White made a game try at making this material work, and, for the most part, succeeded. They assembled a good cast and kept the pace going at a good clip. A little more work could have been given to maintaining an emotional connection between the cast members to add a little bit more validity to the proceedings. There also could have been more variation in levels of vocal delivery. At times it felt as if there was shouting and not shouting, without much in between. And in the times when they were shouting, the diction sometimes slurred and made it hard to hear what was being said.
The set, designed by Branson White, provided gave the cast plenty of space to play in and was a fun representation of a slightly seedy San Francisco apartment. The costumes by Danielle White appropriately took us back to the sixties as did the preshow, intermission, and curtain music.
Jason Barnett as Andy had the best feeling for the cadence of the script and delivered it with ease. Mr. Barnett clearly showed us a man trying desperately to maintain the magazine, the only thing that really matters to him, amid the crazed behavior of Norman. Andy is the rock of the script and Jason Barnett clearly shows us that.
Norman is the classic bumbling romantic whose attempts to woe Sophie always go dreadfully awry. Jake Blakeman throws himself into the part with gusto. At times he goes a little overboard but the character, as written, tends toward that direction. A tiny bit of crispness might add a little more depth to the character. (But this is my opinion, and Mr. Blakeman, you are welcome to ignore it.) I still enjoyed his performance.
Sophie is the harder character of the three, and Caitlin Ferguson succeeds at showing us Sophie’s sweetness and charm. It is difficult to be the one who must smile all the time. I thought she nailed that part of the role. The moments when she reacts to Norman’s weirdness were the times when a little more emotional variation could have come in handy to provide a fuller portrayal. But she makes a wonderful girl next door.
This is Theatre of North Texas’ first performance of their 2019 season in their new performance space. There is so much potential for this company and I applaud them for their efforts. I know that with additional performance of this work and of the future plays to come their work will get better and better. So, pay them a visit and celebrate the spirit of Independence Day by enjoying the humor and great heart the cast of “The Star-Spangled Girl” give to us.
Theatre of North Texas
June 28 – July 14, 2019
Thursday – Saturday – 8:00PM
Sunday – 3:00PM
545 S. Nolen Dr. #250
Southlake, TX 76092
For more information and tickets call 817-989 – 6673
Or visit on the Web at www.theatreofnorthtexas.com