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Regional Reviews

The Seven Year Itch
The Vortex Theatre


Rachel Haskett and Micah Linford
I always assumed that the 1950s in America were the puritanical years, then the pendulum swung and the '60s brought in free and easy sex and fast and loose morality. But The Seven Year Itch, the play by George Axelrod, has disabused me of that notion. Lax morality and one-night stands were there all the time, it's just that the movies wouldn't admit it.

The 1955 Billy Wilder film version, the Marilyn-on-the-subway-grating one, is what most people know nowadays. The play, though, is significantly different, and was a hit in its own right. It opened on Broadway in 1952 and ran for almost three years. I don't know if audiences were scandalized at the time and that's what made it so popular, or if they just took it as the clever comedy that it is and simply had a good time at the theater.

It has aged pretty well, and it's still a good time at the theater. The basic plot is that Richard Sherman, who works in New York for a 25-cent book publisher, has sent his wife and child off to their summer place and will join them on weekends, but is staying in the city during the work week. There is a single girl (we never find out her name) either apartment-sitting or subletting the apartment upstairs. He's 39, has been married for seven years, and is starting to question whether he's still got it. She's 22. They meet, and will they or won't they have an affair? And if they do, will he get away with it?

What makes the play untraditional are the interesting conceits that Axelrod uses: Richard talking directly to the audience, several fantasy sequences, and voiceovers by Richard's and the girl's consciences. And there are several comic interruptions by a (Viennese?) psychiatrist whose serious book Richard is publishing, albeit with a change in title to "Of Sex and Violence" so it will sell in drugstores.

Director Aaron Worley has set this production in about 1962, instead of 1952, to capitalize on the popularity of "Mad Men," but honestly I would not have known the difference. The very appropriate set by Miguel Martinez, props by Claudia Mathes, and costumes by Leigh-Anne Santillanes could be either year. One advantage to the 1962 update is that Worley can use songs by Frank Sinatra that had not yet been recorded in 1952 (although an anachronism like that would probably only bother a few sticklers like me). One of the best moments in this production is Richard dejectedly listening to "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," and we, the audience, just watching and listening too. Thanks to Matt Worley for the sound design.

Micah Linford, who plays Richard, never leaves the stage, and he carries the play with ease. No affectations, no overdoing it, just unforced acting. Rachel Haskett uses a Marilyn Monroe-ish voice, but in no other way does she try to imitate her. She keeps you guessing for a while (is this girl as innocent as she seems to be?) and that's important for the play to work.

Matt Heath's German accent is a little wobbly, but he's such a bundle of energy as the psychiatrist, who cares? It's always a delight to see him onstage. Marina Sage is effective as Richard's wife (seen only in fantasy sequences), and Marc Comstock as her paramour (in Richard's mind, at least) is really funny. Leigh-Ann Santillanes, Kelsey Brown, and Catalina have smallish roles in the fantasy sequences, and all three do well with the little they are given to do.

I'm glad Aaron Worley rediscovered this play and that the Vortex board agreed to let him direct it. He has done a good job of it, and the play moves apace. If all you know is the movie (and isn't that all that anyone knows now?), I think you will be surprised by the play, and you'll have the fun of seeing live theater too.

The Seven Year Itch by George Axelrod is being presented at the Vortex Theatre in Albuquerque through September 15, 2013. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Info at vortexabq.org or 505-247-8600.


Photo: Alan Mitchell

--Dean Yannias



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