Photo: Maria Vartanova
More than half a century has passed since Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn landed on Broadway and launched a remarkable writing career. Simon went on to write more substantial plays — among them, The Odd Couple, Brighton Beach Memoirs and Lost In Yonkers — but his 1961 debut piece still still can demonstrate a lot of charm and vitality.
One of the virtues of Sarah Hearn’s production for Ottawa Little Theatre is that she respects it as a character piece and not just as a vehicle for a succession of verbal gags and comic situations. Therefore, she looks for some solid contrast between Alan Baker, the feckless playboy brother struggling to escape his own family culture, and younger sibling Buddy who arrives, suitcase in hand, at Alan’s bachelor pad in the hope of experiencing a more hedonistic lifestyle. And she recognizes not just the comic potential of the generational conflict which erupts between them and their parents but also an underlying pathos.
Indeed, it is the parents who shine most consistently in this OLT revival. Louis Lemire’s morosely funny portrayal of a father, who has made his living out of the manufacture of wax fruit, is always character-based. Which is why he gets some of the evening’s biggest laughs when he questions Buddy’s playwriting ambitions: “Plays can close. Television you can turn off. Wax fruit lies in a bowl until you’re a hundred!”
As the perpetually agitated Mrs. Baker, Cathy Nobleman may come perilously close to caricature at times, but it is a psychologically consistent performance — you can believe that she is overly-protective of her boys, inclined to neurosis and sustained by an ultimate goodness of heart. Furthermore, she is a comic delight in that classic scene where, alone on Paul Gardner’s handsomely designed set, she must deal with a succession of increasingly bewildering phone messages ( no voice mail back then) while teetering on the edge of hysteria because she can’t find a pencil.
These two performances are the high point of a production which was marked by some unevenness opening night. The opening scene involving the rakish Alan (Corey Pelow) and girlfriend Peggy (a mannered Joey McDougall) came across as so frenetic and shallow that you were silently pleading with them to Slow Down. More seriously, the production was failing to find a rhythm that would allow Simon’s superbly funny one-liners to land effectively. Instead many of the play’s early comic bits were passing by unnoticed.
It was only later, after the production had settled down, that Corey Pelow’s portrayal of Alan, an elder son who gradually discovers how much he’s short-changed those he loves, gained its necessary dimension. But even, at the start of its run, this show is showing its strengths. As younger brother Buddy, Connor Marghetis has charm, presence and an awareness that he plays a character as yet unfixed. And Anne van Leeuwen is appealing in the role of Connie, the young woman that Alan is in danger of losing.
COME BLOW YOUR HORN by Neil Simon
Presented by Ottawa Little Theatre, April 23-May 11 (Matinee, May 5)
Ticket Information 613 233 8948
Director. . . . . . . .Sarah Hearn
Set Design . . . . .Paul Gardner
Lighting . . . . . . .David Magladry
Sound . . . . . . . . .Mike Heffernan
Alan Baker . . . . .Corey Pelow
Peggy Evans . . . .Joey McDougall
Buddy Baker . . . .Connor Marghetis
Mr. Baker . . . . . . .Louis Lemire
Connie Dayton. . . Anne van Leeuwen
Mrs. Baker . . . . . .Cathy Nobleman
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