The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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June 28, 2013

Friends, politics clash in Neil Simon comedy

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Planners at Stone's Throw Dinner Theatre didn't set out to hold a Neil Simon festival.

But based on the playwright's body of work, it's a happy accident, said Shanti Navarre, who directs the theater's upcoming production of "The Star-Spangled Girl."

"I chose it," Navarre said. "The fact that we're doing three Simons in a row is a fluke."

The theater's last season ended with "Plaza Suite," and next up is "They're Playing Our Song." "The Star-Spangled Girl" fits nicely between the other two as a change of pace, because of its light-hearted nature, Navarre said.

The play is about Andy and Norman, two radicals who eke out a living by working on their political magazine dedicated to fighting "the system." When Sophie, an all-American Olympic swimmer from Arkansas moves next door, Norman's obsession, Sophie's rejection and Andy's interest threaten to destroy the magazine and the friendship.

Inspired by a political argument that Simon witnessed, the play focuses on its comedic traits without getting too political, Navarre said. After "The Odd Couple," it's her favorite Simon play.

"It doesn't have the darker undertones of what he usually does," Navarre said. "Sure, if you look at it from a society perspective, it could be creepy. But it's not. It has more fluff than what he usually does. There's a lot of funny wordplay in this one."

The play features plenty of slapstick among a small cast. Brandon Hall and Daniel Burkett play Andy and Norman, respectively. Cheyla Burkett, Navarre's daughter and Daniel's wife, plays Sophie.

The parts of the play that make it so endearing are the same parts that make it challenging to do, Navarre said. The set is filled with important, plot-driven decorations, right down to three windows. And because the cast is small, each actor has had to work hard with many cleverly written lines, Navarre said.

"It's a prop-heavy play with a lot of slapstick in it," Navarre said. "What makes it fun is what makes it difficult to perform, as far as the show is concerned."

 

Want to go?

"The Star-Spangled Girl" will be shown from today until July 7. Showtimes are 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Dinner is served an hour before showtime. Tickets: $23, $20 for seniors, students and youth, $11 for kids. Details: 417-358-9665.

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