Bogart meets Woody
Play It Again, Sam
There are very few screen stars as iconic as Humphrey Bogart. His name conjures up images of the rugged, world-weary, wisecracking characters he played in classics like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep and, perhaps most of all, Casablanca. At Reno Little Theater’s production of Play It Again, Sam, directed by Doug Mishler, the ushers and the mingling cast members are all dressed as Bogie—that is, fedora and raincoat. The pretense is that this is the final night of a Bogart film festival, and everyone’s really excited about the final feature, Casablanca.
The faux film festival experience continues up through the opening credits of the movie projected up on the big screen. I got pretty caught up in the excitement. I love Casablanca, and for about 20 seconds I forgot that I was at a play, not a film festival. I was jolted back to reality when the movie suddenly started fast forwarding to the final scene.
After the brief taste of the greatness that is Casablanca, Allan (Colin Coate), a dweebish film critic, gets up to leave the theater by way of going up on the stage. He, too, is dressed in Bogie garb and, boy, does he look pathetic. He looks like a kid who chose the wrong Halloween costume. He tells us that his wife has left him, his analyst is out of town and he wishes desperately to be like Humphrey Bogart.
Play It Again, Sam (written by Woody Allen, who played Allan in the 1972 film version) focuses on the frightened thrills of being freshly single, and, as the story develops, platonic relationships gone sexual and dangerous love triangles. Allan receives romantic advice and encouragement from a phantom Bogart (George Triplett). Triplett does a fine Bogart impression—even getting the distinctive slur pretty close. Coate, fortunately, does not seem to be imitating Woody Allen, but instead seems like an equally neurotic nephew—related but not imitative. Coate’s Allan is badly dressed, clumsy and uncomfortable to watch.
Besides Bogart, Allan has two friends helping him get dates, married couple Dick (Paul Malikowski) and Linda (Megan Conelly). It’s no spoiler to say that Allan inevitably falls for Linda. Conelly does a nice job of conveying an ambiguous seduction—the audience wonders, is she really coming on to him?
Some of the dialogue is a bit dated, but this just makes for a nice early-'70s period piece. There are references to “swinging” and a funny, pre-cell-phone gag of yuppie Dick calling his secretary and telling her what phone numbers he can be reached at over the course of the day.
Due to what Mishler describes as “a last-second recasting drama,” this cast had a relatively short time to prepare and therefore the director presented the first week of performances as free dress rehearsals. The material is strong and the performers promising.
The material is top notch, although I was sometimes confused by time—some of the transitions, especially in the second act, which is jumbled with flashbacks and fantasies, were a little clunky. There is also a bit of plodding by the third act, which has a slightly more serious tone that doesn’t ever quite gel. But, overall, the play’s fun. There are lots of great bits of ribald humor, and the lead performances are often hilarious. The play itself is an excellent study of how some of us conceptualize life with movie moments and tend to cast ourselves in cinematic roles— sometimes as anxious, neurotic Woodies and sometimes as smooth, tough Bogies.