Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Come Blow Your Horn
Simon was determined to succeed in live theatre and just to make sure, he revised Come Blow Your Horn 20 times. The final product is a very tight family drama set just a couple of years before the '60s exploded American culture. The script is clever, sincere, joke-laden, sentimental, and firmly entrenched in the world and values of the Greatest Generation. That's not a criticism. For this type of material, Simon is among the very the best of his generation.
Come Blow Your Horn was followed by classics that included Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, and the World War II trilogy, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, and Lost in Yonkers. Yonkers won Simon the Pulitzer Prize, showing that a comedy writer can deliver characters and compassion with sufficient strength to gain critical respect.
My first-ever experience in a Broadway theatre was watching Matthew Broderick as Eugene Jerome in Brighton Beach Memoirs. Not a bad first choice for Broadway. Prior, I had seen tons of local Neil Simon, including a notable production of The Last of the Red Hot Lovers at Albuquerque Little Theatre that starred Don Knotts.
Simon began his writing career working for the cheesy world of 1950s TV comedy, yet his plays rose above those one-dimensional gag- and joke-shows (and this is coming from someone who actually liked "The Phil Silvers Show"). Like Woody Allen who worked TV at the same time, Simon's writing after TV stepped up a notch in quality.
Director Marty Epstein turns in a solid production at Adobe Theater. The story follows two grown brothers who are struggling for independence from an overbearingbut lovingfather. Michael Weppler as Alan Baker, the older brother, and John Goddard as Buddy Baker, the younger brother who has just left home and moved in with Alan, are both well cast, and their performances are well delivered. As with any sitcom, timing is critical, and they both get in sync with the tight script.
The power of the play lives in the parents, Mr. Baker (an explosive Phil Shortell) and Mrs. Baker (an appropriately goofy Alaina Warren Zachary). Zachary nails this hapless mother who's trying to balance her two independent sons and their dad who wants to keep them under his thumb. She brings a wide range of facial expressions to punctuate the exasperation of this sitcom mom.
Shortell plays the dad as a volcano that's blasting all the time. I sat in the front row, and in the last scene he was five feet away during his emotional eruption. What a powerful physical presence. I don't know that I could have stood up to him as his sons were forced to. Shortell is an Albuquerque treasure. I've seen him in at least a half dozen performance in just the last two or three years, and every time he turns it in like it's the performance of his life.
Heather Donovan as Connie Dayton and Adrianne Valdez as Peggy Evans don't have as much to play with. Simon didn't give these characters much to do. Connie as a possible love interest for Alan gives Donovan a bit to work with, but Valdez is stuck as a one-note floozy. She does pour it on thick, which is what's required.
This is well-delivered Neil Simon. A couple years back the Adobe took on Simon's The Sunshine Boys, which is more mature and deeper in its look at human misery. That was stunning. But it's also good to see Simon in all his well-crafted humor, and Epstein makes good work of it. Kudos to the production staff as well. Carolyn Hoganas alwaysprovides spot-on costumes.
Come Blow Your Horn by Neil Simon is directed by Marty Epstein at the Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth St. NW, through June 25. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. General admission is $17. Admission for seniors, students, and ATG members is $14. For reservations, call 505-898-9222. For more information see the Adobe Theater website, adobetheater.org.