Herb Tucker is the kind of guy who thinks dressing up is wearing a blazer over a Jaws t-shirt. He can never sleep even after he takes a pill and his screenwriting opportunities have taken a nosedive.
So, as one can see, things were going pretty well when his daughter, Libby, shows up in his living room sixteen years after he walked out on her, her brother, and their mother.
Now Herb really wishes he could catch some Zzzs.
Welcome to Neil Simon's play, I Ought to Be in Pictures, presented by the Arena Players Repertory Theater Company in East Farmingdale, Long Island until October 2.
In a play that explores attachments and the consequences of those attachments between three people, audiences are in for the bumps and bruises that result from working through the past and moving toward the future.
It's never easy for any of the characters, as they are continuously dealing with their own insecurities. Daughter Libby made her sojourn to California from Brooklyn looking to meet the Hollywood father she didn't have any pictures of and hoping to become a superstar in her own right. Enthusiastically acted by Samantha Gates, who is only in high school, Libby is a character you can immediately care about and laugh with. Gates is a champion at the eye roll and she makes it easy to latch onto her crazy antics.
Sandra Murtha, as Steffy, makes a few appearances as Herb's "casual" girlfriend. In the times she inhabits the living room, she expertly shifts from the voice of reason to questioning why she wants a man who is unwilling to be exclusively hers. She's not asking for much -- not even marriage -- but just to see him more than one night a week (without a sleepover). Murtha's portrayal of Steffy is strong, sophisticated, and when the time calls for it, believably vulnerable.
Perhaps the character that goes through the most change is Herb. A man who went from family guy to screenwriter growing fruit trees (orange, lemon, and pits), John Leone delivers an all encompassing performance seesawing back and forth between the man he wants to be and the man he is. His physical comedy is timely, and the emotion he evokes as he flies back and forth through the living room always remains. He gradually and realistically works through his demons, while his chemistry with his daughter gains momentum with every passing line.
Much credit should be given to director Evan Donnellan for his realistic interpretation of the piece; his biggest achievement is taking a 31-year old play and making it relevant for today. (The play actually premiered on Broadway in 1980.) This cast plays with the humor and heartbreak of Neil Simon's play as if it was just written yesterday.
The set may be simple and the costumes not too flashy, but the general feeling at this performance was one of warmth. The Main Stage is intimate and the perfect setting for a play of such heightened emotion and awkwardness. Patrons are practically a part of the action, and even more so, the plights of these three characters cannot be ignored. This particular production of I Ought to be in Pictures is a well-acted, thoroughly satisfying piece of theater and a true testament to the talented individuals who embody the theater community on Long Island.
Arena Players Repertory Theater Company's production of I Ought to be in Pictures will be playing at the Main Stage in East Farmingdale, New York until October 2. Performances are held Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. For tickets or more information, please visit Arenaplayers.org. Please note this will be the last production being held at this venue in East Farmingdale. Arena Players will be moving to the Vanderbuilt Carriage House in Centerport, New York.
Photo Credit: Fred De Feis