by Hugh Hunter
Now running at Stagecrafters, “Play It Again, Sam” is surely one of Woody Allen’s best works. Both a hit Broadway play (1969) and movie (1972), it features Allan Felix, a divorced 35-year-old film critic who struggles to reclaim his life.
Played by James Lewis, Felix is distraught and hyper, often skittering to the stage apron as though he were about to jump off. Into this void two phantasms from his past — ex-wife Nancy and Humphrey Bogart — jump in and set up shop inside Felix’s head.
Nancy (Julia Wise) is picturesque and full of life. In contrast to stuck-in-the-house Felix, this charming Brooklyn vixen keeps popping in from all entrances and from different parts of the world wearing different costumes to taunt Felix on his inadequacies.
Bogey (Jeff Ragan) often shows up in his signature raincoat and has to instruct Felix on how to handle “dames.” When Felix finally does come up with a woman friend, Bogey is there for him, now dressed in a tuxedo to give stern, no-nonsense seduction orders.
And who is Felix to resist? A dark rosy light announces the arrivals of these apparitions (light design Gilbert Todd). Nancy and Bogey are hilarious (at one point they fight each other), and we are charmed by the rhythmic cadence of their comings and goings. But to Felix they are like a song or jingle that he just can’t get out of his head.
They really tell Felix he has no life of his own. His best friends, Dick and Linda Christie, inadvertently make the same point. But these two are real live people who arrive on the scene with their own fields of suffering.
Felix’s apartment is dominated by posters of vintage movies of the ’40s and ’50s. The set is uncluttered as director David Flagg uses lots of physical movement, including a few slapstick sequences reminiscent of Woody’s Sid Caesar days (set design and decor, Scott Killinger and Susan Rosenberg Flagg).
And Flagg’s production makes extensive use of costumes. Slovenly Felix contrasts with impeccable Dick. We know a lot about Felix’s would-be love interests just by looking at them. They include Sharon Lake (Hayley Manion Smith), Go-Go-Girl (Ana-Maria Arkan), Barbara (Laura Betz) and Intellectual Girl (Karen Binder).
In addition to the star performances, Jim Broyles is outstanding as Dick, who uses cockiness to cover up his own massive insecurity. As Linda, Mare Mikalic has a face and bearing that somehow manage to look blank and expressive at the same time.
“Sam” is often so funny you can’t laugh. Felix cannot live authentically until he chases the ghosts out of his life. But we all live with a few unbidden house guests, and “Sam” makes you wonder who they are and how to get rid of them.
Stagecrafters is located at 8130 Germantown Ave. “Play It Again, Sam” will run through June 30. Reservations available at 215-247-8881.