Sometimes you just need a little Neil Simon in your life.
Good Company Players takes us back to the 1960s with Simon’s “Star-Spangled Girl,” a period comedy that mixes laughs and politics — but in a way that’s far removed from the partisan rancor of 2018. Don’t worry: Your after-theater cocktails won’t end in fisticuffs.
Fresno State theater professor J. Daniel Herring is directing this vintage Simon experience. He took a break out of his busy schedule to chat about the show.
Q: Set the scene for us. What sort of “America,” in terms of time and place, does the show take place in?
A: “The Star-Spangled Girl” takes place in the late 1960s in San Francisco at a time when the search for truth, defining patriotism and the roles of men and women in a changing world are in the daily headlines. And, just as with many 1960s television shows, like Rowan & Martin’s “Laugh-In,” these topics are examined in a humorous and somewhat lighthearted manner with a biting truth underscoring many of the scenes.
Q: Have you directed a Neil Simon play before?
A: I have directed “Jake’s Women.”
Q: How and where does “Girl” fit into his body of work?
A: In 1966, Neil Simon had four shows playing at Broadway theaters at the same time: “Sweet Charity,” “The Star-Spangled Girl,” “The Odd Couple” and “Barefoot in the Park.” It appears to me that Simon was grappling with how complex relationships are and at times oddly funny in many of his works at this time in his career.
Q: What’s the show about?
A: Two male best friends and the “girl next door” strike up an unlikely partnership that is filled with ups, downs, twists and turns when it comes to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Q: Politics plays a part in “Star-Spangled Girl.” Can you explain how?
A: There are both conservative and liberal issues and topics raised in the play, but all are on equal footing when it comes to poking fun. In the end, what appears to be important is that a true democracy should include a mixture of both types of viewpoints.
Q: Can the politics of that time be extrapolated to today? Or are you so worn down from politics today that you’d prefer to think of this as escapist fare?
A: I think “The Star-Spangled Girl” allows for some escape by laughing at ourselves in the past, but perhaps also raises the idea that indeed history at times repeats itself.
Q: You’ve double-cast the show, which is rare for a 2nd Space production. Why?
A: The cast is small — two males and one female. At the auditions I had two talented people for each role, so I thought why not provide more opportunities for local actors to get an opportunity to perform at 2nd Space.
Q: What do you hope audiences take away from this show?
A: What makes the world go around for every individual person isn’t always easy to define. Having some fun and laughing a bit at ourselves while figuring it out just might be the best method for uncovering some of the answers to a complex world.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
A: It is hard to believe that this play is 50 years old. During my high school years from 1976 to 1980, a Neil Simon play was still considered contemporary, modern-day theater, and now it is, quite honestly, a period piece. Where has the time gone?
“The Star-Spangled Girl,” through April 22, 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive Ave., Fresno. Tickets are $20 general, $17 students and seniors, $12 student rush.
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