The newly divorced Allan Felix paces across a messy apartment frantically, a stream of barely coherent thoughts about love and life flowing from his mouth, when Humphrey Bogart steps onto the stage to deliver advice on how to get women.
So begins The Stagecrafters Theater’s production of Woody Allen’s “Play it Again, Sam.” The comedy follows Felix (James Lewis) through the first few weeks after his wife leaves him and his attempts to both cope with the aftermath and meet new women.
Director David Flagg said he was drawn to the show because of the funny script and the universal themes.
“We’ve either been through it or we’ve known someone who’s been through it,” said Flagg. He also knew that he needed to find the right actor to play Felix, who is onstage for the entire show.
Flagg found that actor in Stagecrafters newcomer James Lewis.
“He just really seemed to have the character from the start,” Flagg said. “He’s given me everything I wanted and more.”
For Lewis, the experience was personally “therapeutic” – having gone through “a lot of similar experiences” – and professionally gratifying due to the amount of freedom he was given by Flagg. Flagg’s only rule was not to do an imitation of Woody Allen.
“He gave me the opportunity to make as many choices and discoveries as I wanted to, on my own, which was very freeing to me,” said Lewis.
Bumps along the way
The show provided it’s own challenges. Flagg rehearsed with pieces of the cast due the prior commitments of several cast members when production began, only getting the entire cast together eight days before opening night.
A power outage three days before opening left the theater with no lights or sound and Flagg unable to hold a rehearsal.
Instead of a full dress rehearsal, the cast simply read through the play outside. Flagg called it a “great bonding experience” that allowed several actors to hear several scenes for the first time.
Looking for laughs
The show also gave different actors new opportunities. Julia Wise (Nancy) said it felt “like a vacation” to do a comedy after several serious dramas, while Mare Mikalic (Linda) said she enjoyed the chance to return to the show she had previously worked on (in different roles) when it made an off-Broadway revival in New York City.
She even found her old script, complete with hand-written notes and thoughts in the margins, but still tried to “start fresh” because she “didn’t want to come in with any preconceived notions.”
Jeff Ragan, who plays a chauvinistic cigarette-wielding Bogart, said his favorite part was finding out where the laughs are.
“Once you do a particular show for a while and have a couple different audiences, you know where exactly the laugh is going to coming and you can stretch your line out just a little bit and get that good laugh,” said Ragan.
Mikalic noted that she thinks the show’s (frequently brutal) honesty will help create those laughs.
“We all have horrible things happen to us but then, in the telling of the story later, it’s almost comical because of how tragic it was,” she said.
The Stagecrafters Theater’s production of “Play it Again, Sam” will play from June 14-16, 20-23 and 27-30. Thursday through Saturday shows start at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees start at 2 p.m. Tickets are $17 in advance or $20 at the door (or two for $25 on Thursdays).
To find out more, call The Stagecrafters Theater at (215) 247-9913 or visit www.thestagecrafters.org.