While the material in Neil Simon’s "Come
Blow Your Horn" may seem a bit frivolous and dated, the
team of actors in the Heights Players’ new production of the
play are a pleasant discovery.
"Come Blow Your Horn," which opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Feb. 22, 1961, was Simon’s first full-length comedy and his first hit.
In 1963, the play was turned into a film that was mostly a Frank Sinatra vehicle, and a script by Norman Lear, who was to achieve considerable fame as a sitcom writer in the 1970s with "All in the Family" and "Maude" among others.
"Come Blow Your Horn" has a predictable plot with stereotypical characters and much worn gags. But like most of Simon’s comedies, it captured the mood of its times. Today the play reflects a mentality that may be lost on anyone under 40, but it will certainly strike a chord for the middle-aged crowd and older. The Heights Players, which seems to have an audience addicted to the comic playwright, has certainly made a wise choice for its latest production, which opened on Feb. 7.
Director Susan Montez makes her main stage debut at the Heights Players and does a creditable job, thanks, in part, to her previous experience as Kate in "Jake’s Women" and Pearl in "Prisoner of 2nd Avenue," both Simon comedies mounted by the Heights Players.
Don Downie is Alan Baker, the philandering older son of Harry Baker (Ed Healy), owner of the largest artificial fruit business in the east; and older brother of wannabe philanderer Buddy Baker (Steve Velardi).
Both Mr. and Mrs. Baker (Susan Faye Groberg) have accepted the fact that Alan is the prodigal son and Buddy is the studious, obedient son who stays at home, minds the business and will probably take care of his parents in their old age.
Then Buddy goes AWOL, leaving the comforts of home for the more exciting possibilities of life with his adventurous and charming brother. The situation is complicated by Alan’s dallying with Peggy Evans (Stacie Leigh Scaduto), who is both brainless and stage-struck; and his love for Connie Dayton (Alea Varillas), who is more interested in the role of wife than any role onstage.
Most of the humor, however, is inherent in the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Baker. Groberg, who seems to be devoting a large part of her career playing aging Jewish women, having been Grandma Kurnitz in "Lost in Yonkers," Miriam Goldman in "Beau Jest," Golde in "Fiddler on the Roof" and Gorgeous in "The Sisters Rosensweig" (at the Gallery Players), has it down to an art. Certainly she is quite funny as the overly neat, overly protective, overly everything Mrs. Baker. But one can only wish the Heights and Gallery troupes would give the talented Groberg more challenging roles and leave this fluff for less experienced actresses to cut their teeth on.
Healy, a master of comic roles, delivers Lee J. Cobb’s signature, "You’re a bum," hurled at his older son, with great conviction. As the blustering, bullying father, he’s totally convincing when he confronts Alan with remarks like, "In six years you’ve put in two years. I get more help from my competitors."
Velardi and Downie make an amusing Mutt and Jeff pair, and their eventual role reversal is both believable and funny, if not exactly unexpected. Scaduto is fine as the sexy and clueless Peggy, and Vorillas does a good job as the smarter, more solid Connie. But since Simon never chose to give them the funny lines, they don’t have much to do. Both are relative newcomers to the Heights Players, and this reviewer would like to see more of them.
And, of course, any reviewer would be remiss not to take note of set designer Gerry Newman’s wonderful rendering of Alan Baker’s Upper East Side bachelor apartment.
If you’re a Simon fan, "Come Blow Your Horn" is a must-see. But even if you’re not, the comedy is a welcome escape from our darker reality into a light and frivolous world where we can make fun of our foibles because we know that, in the end, love will triumph.
The Heights Players production of "Come Blow Your Horn" plays through Feb. 23, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $10, seniors and students $8. The theater is located at 26 Willow Place between State and Joralemon streets in Brooklyn Heights. For reservations, call (718) 237-2752.