There was a time a while back there that every Broadway season seemed to feature a World Premiere Neil Simon hit. 1980’s I Ought To Be In Pictures arrived smack dab in the middle of those prolific years, and though its fame may pale in comparison to better known Simon classics like Barefoot In The Park, The Odd Couple, Lost In Yonkers and the Brighton Beach Trilogy, even minor Simon can provide major entertainment as its current revival at The Falcon Theatre makes quite clear.

 The titular wish for Hollywood stardom is just one of the reasons 19-year-old Brooklyn girl Libby Tucker (Genevieve Joy) shows up one afternoon at the West Hollywood bungalow where screenwriter Herb Tucker (Robert Wuhl) has been fighting a rather unsuccessful case of writer’s block. Far more important to Libby than her Tinseltown dreams is her desire to bond with the father she hasn’t seen for the past sixteen years.

And so she arrives, suitcase-in-hand and heart-on-sleeve, only to discover that, at least at first glance, dear old Dad isn’t the easiest person to love. He pooh-poohs her desire to be an actress, though truth be told, he has good reason to do so given that Libby’s stage experience has been limited to understudying “one of the girls” in her high school’s two-performance-only summer-session production of The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie. (She did get to work the lights, though.) Not only that, but Herb’s house is a dark, dingy mess, he seems unable to commit to his on-again, off-again girlfriend Steffy (Kelly Hare), and the sad sack doesn’t even know how to give his daughter a fatherly hug.

 Still, plucky teen that she is, Libby decides to stick it out, and if Herb isn’t going to introduce her to any Hollywood stars, then doggonit she’ll meet them on her own working nights for Sunset Valet Parking, leaving personalized business cards on vehicles belonging to the likes of Jack Nicholson, George Segal, Candice Bergen, Suzanne Pleshette, and “that director who directed Jaws.” (“Libby Tucker, New York-trained Actress. No part is too big or too small,” is what she’s written on the back.)

Meanwhile Herb continues to squander his time (if not his money) at Hollywood Park, where three winning bets today have netted him three hundred and forty-six dollars, which is “three hundred and forty-six more than I would have made if I went to that meeting.” (Not bad, considering that it adds up to nearly a thousand 2012 dollars!) Herb is considerably less successful in offering Libby fatherly counsel, which is probably why she is in the habit of seeking advice from her late Grandma, dead these past six years.


Though I Ought To Be In Pictures doesn’t reach the heights of Simon’s Brighton Beach/Lost In Yonkers years, the time we spend with Libby, Herb, and occasionally Steffy makes for two enjoyable hours of forget-your-troubles theater, with plenty of chuckles and some out-loud guffaws along the way.

Though it was Tony Curtis who originated the role of Herb at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre, followed by Ron Leibman, Bill Macy, and Dick Latessa on Broadway, it’s the one-and-only Walter Matthau who is probably best remembered in the role, having brought Herb to the silver screen, and if Matthau is no longer available to play him (and would be ninety-two if he were), the very next best thing is the wonderful Wuhl, who not only gives us Herb in all his Matthauesque bluster and bombast, but digs deep into the character’s long dormant paternal heart, and never more so than in an eleventh hour phone call during which Wuhl reveals more on his face than less talented actors could do with a thousand words.

Dinah Manoff starred as Libby at the Ahmanson, on Broadway, and “In Pictures” as well, a role which Falcon newcomer Joy now assumes to memorable effect. Though Joy’s background in standup and sketch comedy is far removed from Manoff’s Actors Studio training, she makes for about as splendid a Libby as any audience could wish for, not only giving her spunk, chutzpah, and bravado, but revealing a teenager’s fragile, needy soul beneath. Wuhl and Joy are terrific together, and keep getting better and better the deeper into the play (and their relationship) we get.

As Steffy, a role originated by Joyce Van Patten on stage and Ann-Margaret on screen, Hare has the sexiness and smarts of a young Valerie Perrine in addition to an instant likeability and an absolutely natural way with words that makes memorized dialog seem created there on the spot.

Gregg W. Brevoort directs I Ought To Be In Pictures with the same comedic flair that marked his work in the 2010 Falcon production of Souvenir, a play that like Simon’s hides a good deal of poignancy beneath the laugh-filled surface.

 Not surprisingly given the Falcon’s track design record with straight plays, I Ought To Be In Pictures looks and sounds great, beginning with scenic design whiz Jeff McLaughlin (billed here as Jeffrey), whose West Hollywood bungalow features a back yard garden (including a pair of orange and lemon trees) and undergoes a spiffy facelift during intermission. Properties design whiz Heather Ho has assembled a whole bunch of 1980s props, from an IBM electric typewriter to a vintage Mr. Coffee to stacks of screenplays. As for Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting, the master designer scores high marks for Herb’s alternately sun-lit, moon-lit, and lamp-lit living room. Joanie Coyote’s early ‘80s costumes and Robert Arturo Ramirez’s sound design complete the design package quite splendidly, with a tip of the hat to Ramirez for ending the production just as the movie did, with Randy Crawford singing Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager’s exquisite “One Hello.” (The duo were on quite role back then, having also written three Best Song Oscar nominees—“Nobody Does It Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me, “The Last Time I Felt Like This” from Same Time, Next Year, “Through the Eyes of Love” from Ice Castles—within the span of three years.)

Dane Alan Cooke is stage manager. Casting is by Lisa London, CSA and Catherine Stroud, CSA

I Ought To Be In Pictures may never make anyone’s list of top five (or even top ten) Neil Simon favorites (he’s written over thirty of them after all). Still, if you’re anything like this reviewer, you’ll discover that, in its own unassuming way, Simon’s eighteenth Broadway show sneaks up on you and grabs you by the heart.

Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank.

–Steven Stanley
October 24, 2012
Photos: Chelsea Sutton

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