For a floundering screenwriter and deadbeat dad, the unexpected appearance of the daughter he abandoned 16 years earlier spells screwball trouble — albeit fewer surprises than one might hope for — in Neil Simon’s “I Ought to Be in Pictures” at the Falcon Theatre.
This revival of Simon’s 1980 comedy-drama features Robert Wuhl as Herb Tucker, one of the playwright’s prototypical protagonists: an acerbic, narcissistic man-child and transplanted New Yorker who waxes poetic about the scarcity of good deli food in L.A. Having successfully evaded commitment to his undemanding and level-headed girlfriend (Kelly Hare), Herb gets a life lesson in maturity when 19-year-old Libby (Genevieve Joy) shows up at the doorstep of his shabby West Hollywood bungalow hoping he can help launch her acting career.
An accomplished comic actor and writer (of HBO’s “Arli$$” and “Assume the Position”), Wuhl knows his way around a one-liner. Unfortunately, neither of his costars match his delivery, though for different reasons — Hare struggles valiantly in a role that’s little more than an idealized cartoon of a selfless female companion possessed of saintly wisdom, while Joy lacks any credibility as a smart-alecky Brooklynite to trade repartee with Wuhl.
More problematically, the Borscht Belt-ladled dialogue opts for cleverness that rarely aligns with authentic feeling in the way it does in better Simon works such as “Lost in Yonkers” or “Biloxi Blues.” Here, the Herb character may be a writer but the autobiographical component feels generic, with far less at stake.