It says something about my OCD-like nature that I would consider it absurd to have reviewed theater for 20 years but not have seen every play Neil Simon ever wrote -- which is why I found myself at the lovely Apple Hill Playhouse watching, for the first time, an "also-ran" from the Simon canon called The Star-Spangled Girl.
We weren't too long into the show before I realized that there's a pretty good reason why it has been kept hidden from me for two decades. If I can quote Walter Kerr's review of the original 1966 production: "Neil Simon didn't have an idea for a play this year, but he wrote it anyway."
We're in 1960s San Francisco and the apartment of Andy and Norman, editor and writer of a "radical" magazine which nobody reads. Everything's going great until Sophie moves in next door: a lovely, comely, pretty, shapely, attractive, pert, beautiful, blonde, adorable swimmer who is also of a conservative nature.
That's a lot of adjectives, I know, but that's how Simon's written her. Sophie's only personality trait is her attractiveness, and her only function is to come between the boys and their magazine. Writing a three-character play but forgetting to define a third of the roles turns out to be a problem.
Norman falls hard for Sophie and stalks her to such an extent that she gets fired from her lifeguard job. Andy tells her that, to make up for her being fired, she has to work at the magazine. (Yeah, I didn't get that part either.) It all ends in a comical mess with people in love with other people.
The deal I've made with Neil Simon is this: I go into his shows not expecting much in terms of character or plot, and in return he gives me rock-solid structure and lots of laughs. I'm sorry to say that, with Star-Spangled Girl, one of us did not live up to his side of the bargain.
No surprise that the folks behind the Apple Hill Playhouse have such a time of it. There's little in the script that works theatrically, forcing this Herculean cast and director to the point of exhaustion trying to make it play. Patrick Link, Mike Crosby and Melissa Newell manage to find the occasional bright spot, but, ultimately, they can't make up for the work Simon refused to do.
The Star-Spangled Girl continues through Aug. 16. Apple Hill Playhouse, 275 Manor Road, Delmont. 724-468-5050 or www.applehillplayhouse.org