Newport Playhouse’s Remember Me Makes ’em Laugh

Sam Bobrick’s Remember Me? (described alternately as “wacky” or “elegant,” depending on your source) is Newport Playhouse’s current offering, providing several easy chuckles for their always appreciative audiences. Running through July 1, Bobrick’s familiar tale of unhappy marriage and playful infidelity slots in well with Newport’s programming (last year’s Self-Help comes to mind) – bawdy, lighthearted and played for laughs. While no classic, the script showcases Bobrick’s strengths as a television sitcom writer and Remember Me? becomes essentially a showcase for one-liners and playful mugging … not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Bobrick’s premise is the surprise visitation of an old college flame to Mary and Brian Hanson’s comfortable empty nest of a Manhattan apartment. While Brian (played straight by Michael Gregory who eventually winds up unravelling into several scene-stealing laugh-out-loud moments) is perfectly happy in the predictability and comfort of their marriage, his wife, Mary, clearly yearns for the spark of their younger years. Her college boyfriend, Peter, arrives on her doorstep out of the blue and it isn’t long before reminiscing turns into flirting and descends into outright adultery. Or does it? “Peter” turns out to be a figment of her imagination and the play’s short running time is mostly spent watching Brian spiral out of control trying to deal with his (quite justified) outrage and jealousy. Brian, is, of course, emotionally absent and takes Mary for granted, so she feels (mostly) justified in her spiritual dalliance. If one takes too long to analyze the premise, questions of misogyny, toxic male ego and even simple issues of dramatic structure crowd in and detract from the obvious fun that the cast and audience are having. To ding Remember Me? as a script would be akin to discussing just how horrible the characters on Saved By The Bell really were (incidentally, Bobrick created both).

Pamela Gill manages to keep the proceedings grounded by lending Mary some depth even while she displays an appropriate amount of meta-awareness as to how odd her situation has become. Does she actually see and feel Peter in a tactile sense, or is her pent-up sexual and emotional frustration manifesting itself in a Tyler Durden kind of way where we can explain away any of Peter’s physical actions as simple double-dealing on her part? Even this level of analysis is digging far deeper than Bobrick’s premise deserves, especially when it’s been handled far better even in scripts such as Harvey, but there becomes ample room for shtick when there’s a ghost in the room that only one person can see, and that’s the real endgame here.

While Peter (played on various nights by either Charles Kehres or NP Playhouse president, Jonathan Perry) is mostly there as a figure off which to bounce, Gregory, Gill and the whirlwind express of Katrina Rossi’s lovably ditzy Tori are there for as many laughs as director Daniel Lee White can mine. No fourth wall is sacred, no bit is too broad and no physicality is reined in as the company wrings every last guffaw possible out of an audience that seems willing to play along the entire way. Do we explore the larger psychological issues at hand whereby a middle-aged housewife starts having succubus-like encounters on her own marriage bed, up to and including the smoldering cigarettes and half-chewed muffins? Do we wonder how a marriage can survive when a jealous husband employs an “actress” to pretend to be his young lover in order to get his mentally troubled wife jealous? No mention of marriage counselling or therapy, or even divorce is entertained. This is farce and, as such, it lives and dies by its cast and the direction, not the script. Gregory is an old hand at this type of broad comedy and Remember Me? is no exception. His ad-libbed audience asides and physical bits are broad but deftly executed. Rossi, as mentioned, is a force of nature and plays her aspiring, yet clueless, stereotype with such broad strokes that she makes it hers, transcending the trope. Gill’s comic chops are more subtle and restrained, but when directed to go big, she gives no quarter. It’s a script that Newport Playhouse has been trying to stage for some time and White (along with the assistance of Olivia M. Sahlin) has done what needs to be done given this tight, but ultimately forgettable script.

Remember Me?’s forgettability is in its design, not its execution, and Newport Playhouse has yet another crowd pleaser, another living-room romp (are all of their plays set in living rooms?) and another excuse to make ‘em laugh. As usual, Tonya Killavey’s scenic design is exemplary (although the ivy-covered walls on the outside are a tad busy) and any other flaws are minor enough to fade away with each passing sight gag. At the height of the busy summer theater season, there are literally dozens of choices all over Rhode Island, but Newport Playhouse (not unlike Theater by the Sea) is more of an experience than simply watching a play for two hours. Dinner and cocktails beforehand followed by the cabaret (and possibly more cocktails) is the serving suggestion. The play may not live in our memories, but a night at Newport Playhouse certainly will.

Newport Playhouse and Cabaret Restaurant presents Sam Bobrick’s Remember Me? through July 1. 102 JT Connell Hwy, Newport. Showtimes vary, but doors open for matinees at 11am and for evening shows at 6pm. Shows start approximately two hours following doors open. For tickets and information, call (401) 848-PLAY (7529) or visit newportplayhouse.com

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