By M. English
For 21st Century Media
ender-bending that challenges hetero-normative roles certainly isn’t a new dramatic construct. Consider well-known tales like Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and “As You Like It,” Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot,” Sydney Pollack’s “Tootsie” and Carl Reiner’s “All of Me.”
Lesser known but no less confounding: DCP Theatre’s April 11-26 production of “Goodbye, Charlie,” a George Axelrod comedy hinged on the fortunes and misfortunes of its philandering title character and identity issues that still resonate five decades after the play debuted on Broadway.
“Charlie learns a thing or two in his new life — and so does his best buddy,” organizers promise on a press release. “This one will have you laughing out loud and treating everyone right in this lifetime.”
In short …
Caddish, womanizing Charlie meets an untimely death, is reincarnated as a woman and finds him-herself back in his-her old Malibu digs — described by longtime pal George as his “mortgaged pleasure dome.” Charlie reveals his-her plight to George, and confusion ensues as feelings develop, emotions mount and … well, you know what they say about karma.
In staging “Goodbye, Charlie,” director Suki Wilkie, producer Emma Strowger and their Telford-based thespians add yet another spin to a story that’s already had its share of, um, reincarnations.
Axelrod, a prolific playwright and screenwriter, took the play to Broadway following hit New York runs with “The Seven Year Itch” and “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” “Goodbye, Charlie” was far less popular, even with Lauren Bacall in the lead. It opened Dec. 16, 1959, closed March 19, 1960 and logged only 109 performances before re-emerging in a 1964 movie adaptation starring Debbie Reynolds and Tony Curtis. In 1985, Axelrod’s tale was reworked as a TV series with Suzanne Somers as Charlie, but that version got axed after its pilot episode aired. Six years later, Blake Edwards redid the story in an Ellen Barkin-Jimmy Smits film called “Switch” that earned Barkin a Golden Globe nomination but failed to mine gold at the box office.
“I was aware of “Goodbye, Charlie(’s)” background … of all the history, but I neither ignore nor do I draw from all those adaptations,” Wilkie says. “I knew they existed — and I particularly like the version with Debbie Reynolds — but I think, ultimately, a production is shaped by whatever a given director and cast bring to it.”
The local “Goodbye, Charlie” cast consists of DCP veterans Amy Reifinger (Charlie), Jason Martin (Irving), Liz Chiodo (Rusty Mayerling), Ray Greenley (Mr. Shriber), Bruce Crotzer (Greg Morris) and Crystal Fries (Franny Saltzman). Jay Fletcher (George Tracy) will be appearing in his first DCP Theatre production.
Crew members include Mike Addice and Joe Gallagher, light and sound design; Shelby Winder and Strowger, light and sound operators; and Wilkie, Strowger and Cathy Zeller, costumes.
“The show’s cast is terrific,” Wilkie said. “This is a play with a heavy amount of dialog, and with a show like that, the toughest thing is getting the actors off-book (knowing their lines without a script) — something these actors have all been great at doing.”
That said, she encourages her players to put their personal stamp on characters.
“This cast has been so good at finding the little nuances in scenes, finding humor where it isn’t necessarily obvious,” Wilkie said. “What makes that happen? I think it’s a combination of experienced actors and fresh eyes on a script. And when one of them comes up with something that isn’t obvious but really works, you run with it.
“With Jay, for example, who plays George, he comes up with these gestures or looks that are so hilarious, I end up saying, do that every time, it’s great. He’s only been acting for something like five years, too. But he’s a very good character actor — with this terrific, booming voice. And he’s wonderful at taking the character and making it unique.
“Amy, who plays Charlie, hasn’t acted in several years, but I’ve known her since I was a teenager. I met her in a Methacton Community Theater production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’ I was in the ensemble, and she played Audrey. I asked her to audition for this, and she knocked it out of the ballpark. She has great comedic timing and is completely open-minded in going after a scene.
“Amy and Jay both attack a scene with open minds, and they pretty much have the same work ethic. They’re great together.
“Liz, who plays Rusty, another lead character, is great, too. She brings a sophistication to the role that Rusty needs. Sadly, this will be Liz’s last show at DCP because she’s moving to Germany with her husband, who’s (in the military). The whole cast — Bruce, Jason, Crystal, Ray – they’re all terrific.”
Of course, it helps that Wilkie and Strowger work well together.
“We get along great,” Wilkie said. “I think it, and she does it, or she thinks it, and I do it. It’s a brilliant relationship.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: DCP Theatre’s “Goodbye, Charlie.”
WHERE: DCP Theatre, 795 Ridge Road, Telford.
WHEN: April 11 through April 26. Opening weekend performances-April 11 and 12 (with director’s wine receptions) at 8 p.m. and April 13 at 2 p.m. Closing weekend performances-April 24-26 at 8 p.m.
TICKETS: $15 at door or online at www.dcptheatre.com. $13 for senior citizens and students. Groups of 10 or more should contact the box office (215-234-0966) for rates.
INFO.: Call (215) 234-0966 or check www.dcptheatre.com.