‘Come Blow Your Horn’ at The American Century Theater by Francine Schwartz

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS

The American Century Theater (TACT) has an ambitious portfolio of theater performances, defined by their mission statement as presenting the classics of the 20th Century. The last play I reviewed here was J.B., which was a dramatic tour de force. This time TACT aims for a broad comedy and entertains us with an early Neil Simon play, a precursor to his long run as a Broadway superstar. This was Neil Simon’s first attempt at using ‘the odd couple’ comic device, which was successfully utilized throughout his career.

The Baker Brothers: Elliott Kashner (Alan), and Alex Alferov (Buddy). Photo by Johannes Markus.
The Baker Brothers: Elliott Kashner (Alan), and Alex Alferov (Buddy). Photo by Johannes Markus.

Come Blow Your Horn is the story of Buddy Baker, artfully played by Alex Alferov, the 21 year old virgin son, who makes a major life decision to leave his parents’ home to move into his brother Alan’s New York apartment. Alan skillfully played by Elliot Kashner, assumes the role of the confident dapper 30 year-old playboy living the swinging bachelor life and making the most of his abundant-free time to wine and sometimes win several nubile young ladies, with ambitions to add to their number.

When his younger brother Buddy enters the apartment, all with the goal of following in his brother’s footsteps toward independence, we find that while Buddy may have the ambition, he completely lacks the tenacity and perseverance in the social skills department. As Alan attempts to mentor his younger brother, the audience learns quite a few expert ploys which are directed at seducing women. It is this menagerie and the associated farce that follows which provides both the chuckles and outright laughter as the play evolves during its three acts, which transverse a three week period. The acting skills employed by both Mr. Kashner and Mr. Alferov are what will draw audiences to The American Century Theater to witness and take in some remarkable comedic talent.

There are two young women – the ditzy tramp Peggy Adams (Lizzi Albert), and the virtuous ingénue Connie (Heather Benjamin). Both women enjoy tussles on the couch but with very different outcomes. Both perky actresses are required to display their gymnastic abilities as they move about the stage and pursue their respective individual ambitions.

This turns out to be a “coming of age” story. Both brothers grow immensely and creditably by the play’s ending and resolution. This happy ending is assisted by their parents Mr. and Mrs. Baker, respectively performed by Mick Tinder and Allison Turkel, whose persistent visitations to berate, harass, and guilt-trip their sons provides an increasing tension as we expect that their paths will catastrophically cross the various female protagonists. Ms. Turkel presents a somewhat over-the-top prototype of the loveable but often hysterical mother, panicked by her sons’ moves in the direction of leaving the nest, and prone to make a mess every time she answers the phone and takes a message for her sons. Mr. Tinder’s exasperation and indignation provides important information about both sons’ attitudes toward making a living and choosing a profession other than following in their father’s footsteps of manufacturing plastic fruit. Director Rip Claassen does a superb job of directing the parents to employ Brooklyn accents and Yiddish cadences to good effect, which makes the play even more realistic.

Alex Alferov (Buddy), Lizzie Albert (Peggy),  and Mick Tinder (Mr. Baker). Photo by Johannes Markus.
Alex Alferov (Buddy), Lizzie Albert (Peggy), and Mick Tinder (Mr. Baker). Photo by Johannes Markus.

The background music we hear while all this chatter is exchanged is uncredited, but it helps greatly to set the mood with Frank Sinatra crooning about love and a cha-cha beat that reminds us of early television and other festivities. Ed Moser, who handles double responsibilities as the production manager and sound designer, provides the music that sets both the mood and time for the play. Scenic Designer Trena Weiss-Null has constructed a set reminiscent of an early 60’s bachelor pad done with spot-on period accuracy including black lacquer furniture (a contemporaneous mark of “sophistication”), a well-stocked cabinet of booze and colorful prints referencing Picasso and Tamara de Lempika hanging on the walls.

Come Blow Your Horn is still relevant today because the trials and tribulations continue to be germane to growing up in 2013 – just like they were in 1961. The only challenge today is they are even more complicated!

Don’t miss this opportunity to observe some great staging and acting and to be entertained by the wit of Neil Simon. Run and buy tickets to TACT’s funny and fuzzy-warm production of Come Blow Your Horn.

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Come Blow Your Horn plays though October 12, 2013 at The American Century Theatre performing at Gunston Theater II at the Gunston Arts Center – 2700 South Lang Street, in Arlington, VA.  For tickets, call the box office at 703-998-4555, or purchase them online.