ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Neil Simon is one of America’s most popular playwrights, yet he seldom gets the respect he deserves as a serious comic dramatist – although his play “Lost in Yonkers” did win a Pulitzer Prize in 1991. The Adobe Theater, an Albuquerque gem, has a long-standing love affair with Simon, producing no fewer than four of his plays over the past few years, including “Lost in Yonkers” in 2013.
The Adobe is currently presenting Simon’s first play, “Come Blow Your Horn,” which appeared on Broadway in 1961, just before the cataclysmic era of political assassinations, the Vietnam War, and sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll emerged. The play captures this era well, when the biggest problem a family faced was an elder son who wouldn’t settle down and marry because he is too busy juggling multiple girlfriends. While this may be Simon’s first play, his comic genius is fully formed.
The comic premise has younger brother Buddy moving in with elder brother, Alan, in his swinging bachelor pad. While Alan is charming and smooth with the ladies, Buddy is shy and tongue-tied. While Alan is irresponsible and rarely shows up to work at his father’s plastic fruit business, Buddy is completely dependable. The attentive reader will have noticed a staple of Simon’s comic technique here, as opposites sharing an apartment is the comic hinge of his later play “The Odd Couple.” Before long, the two brothers will reverse roles.
A New Yorker himself, director Marty Epstein is well-suited to capture the rhythms of this dysfunctional Jewish New York family. He is buttressed by an excellent cast, which never lets the pace slacken and who are able to capture the quirkiness of the characters without falling into stereotype.
Michael Weppler is terrific as the compulsive womanizer Alan, who will stoop to any lie to get his prey into bed. Adrianne Valdez is fabulous as the ditzy wannabe actress Peggy, who falls for his lies, while Heather Donovan brings the appropriate level of sense and sincerity to Connie, the woman who finally brings Alan to a proper estimation of the value of monogamous stability. And Phil Shortell is great as the blustery father.
But the scene-stealer here, in the best sense of the term, is Alaina Warren Zachary as the neurotic mother, Mrs. Baker. Simon has composed a tour de force comic scene in which the mother is left alone in the apartment while the phone keeps ringing. Unable to locate a pencil or remember the messages, she gets more and more frenzied. Even the 4 or 5 minutes of relative silence before the phone rings for the first time is hilarious, as Mrs. Baker snoops around her boys’ apartment humming a tune. (If there were such a category, the Playboy magazine would get the award for most comic value gotten out of a prop.) Zachary’s every gesture, facial and vocal expression in this and all her scenes are the comic high point of this very funny production.
Linda Wilson’s set perfectly captures an early 1960s bachelor pad, while Carolyn Hogan gets the period costumes just right.
“Come Blow Your Horn” is playing through June 25 at Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth NW, Albuquerque. Go to adobetheater.org or call 898-9222 for reservations.