Aging 'Itch'

LTW has constructed a splendid production of a terribly outdated play

Live Theatre Workshop has mounted a funny, well-acted and well-directed production of a play that really should be kept in mothballs for another 25 years.

George Axelrod's The Seven Year Itch is not only missing a hyphen; it's lost any relevance to the way real men and women relate to each other. The 1950s play--about a man, married for seven years, contemplating a dalliance with a sexy young neighbor--trades on antiquated gender stereotypes. Give it another quarter-century, and The Seven Year Itch could be enjoyed as an amusing period piece, as English Restoration comedies are today. But right now, we lack that distance. We're in an in-between period, when the play has lost its currency but isn't quite a classic. For now, it just seems old-fashioned.

Still, it was a hit in its day, and it spawned a popular Marilyn Monroe movie and a few knockoffs. (A Guide for the Married Man, in the late 1960s, was one of the more successful imitators, but it, too, looks dopey and unhip at the moment.) Axelrod introduces us to an ordinary fellow named Richard, at loose ends now that his wife and son have gone off on summer vacation; because of Richard's work schedule, he can join them only on the weekends. Richard has been fully faithful these past seven years, although he fancies himself a potential lothario. That potential is put to the test when he encounters a seductive young neighbor who may or may not be willing to indulge him in a fling--if he has the courage (or is it lack of character?) to follow through.

So, the male character is a wolf in sheep's clothing, or maybe the other way around--at any rate, a middle-aged man with a libido problem. The Girl (she doesn't even have a name) is what Aldous Huxley would have called "pneumatic," a word that unfortunately applies not just to her expert padding but also to the air between her ears.

At LTW, the play manages to be funny despite itself, because director Sabian Trout and her actors subvert the stereotypes at every turn. First, there's the casting of Richard: not the tall fellow the script implies, but the short, pudgy Cliff Madison. The thought of Madison being a ladies' man is only slightly less ridiculous than imagining Danny DeVito as a romantic lead (although, actually, it's been done). He's paired with the willowy Missie Scheffman, her natural height enhanced by very high heels. This leads to some hilarious visual incongruity, beginning with a great little shtick involving the lighting of a cigarette.

Physical mismatching is easy enough to pull off; developing the characters is tougher, but Scheffman and Madison manage well, given their limited material. Although Scheffman wastes a bit too much of her talent channeling the breathy Marilyn Monroe, she eventually takes charge of the character, making The Girl more of an innocent than a seductress. Madison, whose Richard is always onstage, usually talking himself into some unlikely fantasy, has a tremendously mobile face, his shifting but not overdone expressions bringing many more implications to his lines than Axelrod put there.

The Seven Year Itch has a number of subsidiary characters, and director Trout allows none of them to fall by the wayside. Even those who are little more than walk-ons get the best from Allegra Breedlove, Roxanne Harley, Elizabeth D. Leadon and the young Ryan Callie. In the slightly more substantial roles, Kristi Loera makes the most of what is, until near the end, the nothing part of Richard's wife; Michael Woodson has fine timing as a psychiatrist spouting Freudian nonsense; and Eric Schumacher is nicely oily as a writer who Richard imagines to be making a play for his wife. Even the French and German accents are believable, which hasn't always been the case at LTW.

Something about the wrinkled wallpaper in the back and the ugly stairs to nowhere initially made Seren Helday's set seem dowdy, but it served its purpose adequately, and the stairs ultimately had a reason for looking like that. Michael Martinez seemed to be doing some interesting things with the music, but, aside from Kurt Weill's "September Song," little of it was really audible.

As so often happens in Tucson, we have a production that transcends its material. The Seven Year Itch will probably be a real hoot if LTW gets the itch to revive it in another seven--or, preferably, 14 or 21--years.

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