Bernard Slade's 1979 Broadway production "Romantic Comedy" appears to be the Canadian playwright's tribute to the witty, brut champagne-dry dissections of the upper crust by such noble predecessors as Noel Coward and (on this side of the Atlantic) Philip Barry.
Under the best of circumstances, Slade's dialogue varies between flat and sparkling, more cold duck than Special Reserve. Imagine any human being, regardless of their stratum of society, saying, "I hate it when you lapse back into your schoolmarmishness" or "I'm either going to sneeze or cry--and I have a feeling, it's going to be the latter" and you'll have an idea of Slade at his least effervescent.
In its current incarnation as the ongoing production of Ventura's Plaza Players company, the play is diluted further still by its casting.
Tony Perkins starred as sophisticated playwright Jason Carmichael and Mia Farrow as his disciple, Phoebe (P.J.) Craddock, in the play's Broadway production, and the 1983 film featured Dudley Moore and Mary Steenburgen in the same roles; each pairing was believable enough. But Braden McKinley plays a far less polished Carmichael, as Jerry Van Dyke might. Kathleen Hobson is closer to the mark, though more like Shelley Long or Sandy Duncan than Farrow or Steenburgen.
Both the Plaza Players leads are fine actors, it must be said, just miscast or, perhaps, misdirected by Players artistic director Michael Maynez.
The supporting roles are more appropriately played. Linda Lacey portrays Carmichael's agent, Blanche Dailey, as a wisecracking Ann Sothern type; Tracy Hiott is a hoot in the rather difficult role of Carmichael's intelligent, trusting wife, Allison St. James; and Irene Fodor practically walks away with the show during her cameo as an actress who's determined to control the Carmichael play she's starring in.
Somewhat more problematical is Alan Price as reporter Leo Janowitz. Although the jealous Carmichael dismissively characterizes the fellow--Craddock's suitor--as "the kind of person who wears a bowling shirt, even when he isn't bowling" and " . . . like Jimmy Breslin, only without the polish," Price is rather nattily dressed (for a reporter, at least) by costumer Charlotte McCoy, and in truth shows no less polish than McKinley's Carmichael.
Despite the shortcomings of play and production, the Plaza Players' "Romantic Comedy" contains more than a few solid laughs and the romantic triangle (or is it) is amusing in its metamorphosis. There are far less rewarding ways to spend $6 on a Wednesday night.
* WHERE AND WHEN
"Romantic Comedy" continues Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, through Feb. 16 at the Plaza Players Theater, 34 N. Palm St. (in the Old Town Livery courtyard) in Ventura. Tickets are $6 Wednesdays, $7.50 Fridays and $8.50 Saturday nights. Call (805) 643-9460 for reservations or further information.