By Bill Hirschman, FloridaTheaterOnStage.com, Special to EyesOnNews.com, Jan 16, 2015 – The cutting-edge Mad Cat Theatre Company’s take on Neil Simon’s The Star Spangled Girl probably comes pretty close to the troupe’s intent to radically deconstruct a freeze-dried example of the Broadway boulevard comedy circa 1966.
Indeed, this mashup elicited plenty of laughs – resulting both from the revisionist spin at 2000 rpm and from the classic comic paradigms that Simon was a master at crafting. Most folks opening night, including us, were giggling and guffawing.
That said, this exercise in stylistic schizophrenia didn’t land solidly as its creators hoped because you can either embrace Simon or distance yourself. It seems you can’t completely succeed at doing both simultaneously. These styles are at war with each other, undercutting each’s effectiveness.
Simon’s lesser known play set in the mid-1960s finds friends Norman and Andy producing a left-wing magazine Fallout in their San Francisco apartment. Norman becomes insanely infatuated with new neighbor Sophie, a beautiful former Olympic swimmer who is unabashedly of the my-country-right-or-or-wrong mentality and engaged to a Marine. The very smell of Sophie drives Norman to such distraction that he can’t focus enough to write. That endangers the magazine and spurs Andy to keep Norman on track by any means, including hiring Sophie even though she has no secretarial skills let alone journalistic ones. The original Broadway casting is instructive in seeing Simon’s vision (although he didn’t like the direction): Anthony Perkins as Andy, Richard Benjamin as Norman and Connie Stevens as Sophie.