The Dorset Players' latest gift to the community is their reprise of the 1968 Broadway hit (and 1972 film), "Play It Again, Sam," written and originally starred in by Woody Allen. With an edited line as its title, and a familiar song, plus the ghost of Humphrey Bogart, "Sam" recalls "Casablanca," the celebrated 1942 film, in these and more ways.
Mike Cutler, as the nebbishy, bespectacled film writer Allan Felix, trots around the stage throughout the show. Beset by his wife's divorce move, he's on again, off again, in whatever he's doing or thinking. Turning in his pain to friends, the couple Dick and Linda Christie, Allan is set up with a series of gals they think he might connect with.
Drew Hill's handsome set of Allan's Manhattan apartment is not-unexpectedly decorated with film-world posters featuring James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and "Casablanca." The show's many period touches include oft-recited four-digit New York phone numbers preceded by the named exchange.
The first date the Christies introduce Alan to is Sharon Lake, played with aplomb and a distinct New York accent, by Christy Vogel. Some shared interests suggest this could be a workable match, until Allan quickly manages to blow it away.
The prospects paraded for Allan include the Go-Go Girl, nimbly performed by Berkshire Dance Theatre alumna Dana McCormick; the Intellectual Girl brought off aptly in her erudite remoteness by Long Trail sophomore Greta Schaub; and Vanessa (Laura King) who interestingly presents herself as a sex-pistol and surprises on Allan's move. McCormick and Schaub each show up as another date for Allan. Suzi Dorgeloh, who's served as wardrobe mistress for a raft of Players' shows, has dolled up the dates to the nines.
From early on—inside very special lighting effects designed by Angie Merwin—Allan is visited by Bogey's ghost. Patrick Zilkha ably renders the star's lip-scarred lisp, while delivering directions to solve all Allan's problems with women. Similar lighting conjures up added scenes: visits by his leave-taking wife Nancy (Amy Johnson in her fine Players debut) complete with several surprises, and more of Allan's remembered or imagined exchanges.
While the Christies continue to promote new potential partners for Allan, the two have their own ups and downs. Dick (Evan Pringle) is forever on the phone or out of town on business; Linda (Desiree Kipp, an experienced actress, here in her Players debut) longs to be appreciated. We see Dick first as the consumed businessman, later the distraught worrier, even (in different lighting) an Italian-speaking, weapon-wielding angry man in a foreign film—opposite Allan. Linda, feeling neglected, is drawn elsewhere. Pringle and Kipp make a dynamic duo, each conveying with finesse his/her own variety of hurtful uncertainties.
As much as the show is full of laughs, it's full of reversals. "Sam" takes its central characters through similar situations, with echoes of "Casablanca." But "Sam" has its own wrinkle in Barbara, Allan's final visitor, played with a flair in a cameo performance by the thespian identified as "Special Guest" in the cast listings—and described in the bios as someone well-known in local acting circles.
One more admirable accomplishment of Janet Groom, director of four earlier Players' shows, "Sam" is decidedly worth seeing. But DO arrive early for an advance peek at Allan's personality: you can observe the film guy (in this portion of Cutler's stand-out Players debut) operating strictly on his own at home for a full 15 minutes before curtain time.
"Play It Again, Sam" can be seen on Friday, March 11, and Saturday, March 12, at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, March 13, at 2 p.m. For ticket information, call the Box Office at (802) 867-5777 or visit online at www.dorsetplayers.org.