I Ought To Be In Pictures – theatre review

The Alhambra opened the second show of its fiftieth season under the ownership and management of Craig Smith and partners, with Neil Simon’s classic comedy “I Ought To Be In Pictures.” Continuing their commitment to bring stars to their stage, this show stars Richard Karn, well known for his role as “Al” for eight seasons on “Home Improvement,” and also as the congenial host of “Family Feud.”

This show played at the Alhambra in 1984 and was the start of the thirty-year career of Artistic Director Tod Booth at what was then called The Alhambra Dinner Theatre. If you are too young to have seen it, or don’t remember it, here is a brief look at the plot of Simon’s comedy.

Libby, a nineteen-year-old Brooklynite, hitch-hikes to Hollywood to break into the movies and see her estranged father. He abandoned the family sixteen years ago, she was still in diapers at the time. Her visit is a complete surprise to Herb, a screenwriter turned gambler-drinker, who has given up on permanent relationships except for his weekly dates with Steffy, a divorcée with two children, who would like a future with commitment. His unbearably cute and outspoken daughter transforms him, creating much of the humor in the process in this smart revival that bears its age lightly. Set in 1980, there is nothing dated about the emotional portrayal of a dysfunctional family. All is well and ends well, but we won’t spoil it by giving away details.

Chloe Golden as Libby is marvelous; a young lady of dewy innocence and saucer eyes and smart as a whip. She can tune up and repair automobiles, is an amateur interior decorator, and can type up a storm. This is Ms. Golden’s third Alhambra show, having previously appeared in “Hairspray” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

Lisa Valdini is Steffy, Herb’s lover for the past two years, and her portrayal is animated and delightful. Ms. Valdini is very familiar with this play since she appeared as Libby in the Alhambra’s earlier production. (We saw it and remember it well; it also featured Claude Akins as Herb.) She has become an Alhambra favorite in a wide range of roles, including musicals, comedies, and drama, all while finding the time to host television shows and do Winn-Dixie voiceovers. She will tell you she is most proud of her career as wife to husband and director Tod Booth, and mother to their two grown children, Jessica and Jason.

Richard Karn is doing the play for the first time; in fact, this is the first time he has appeared in any work written by Neil Simon. He has done a number of other plays, including “The Foreigner“, and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” His impressive resume lists appearances in many television movies and other on-screen roles.

Karn is a performer of enormous charm and warmth, and this shines through during this play. His characterization is so polished and professional that it is hard to believe he has only been in this role during a short rehearsal period. He doesn’t just play Herb, he unravels him in a performance that is captivating and entertaining. A truly gregarious person, Mr. Karn makes it a point to visit the Alhambra lobby after each show to meet and greet his many fans.

Set Designer Dave Dionne‘s set is a throwback to the California of the 1970s, with a pink stucco bungalow apartment that has a kitchen the size of a phone booth. The interior is somewhat transformed when Libby applies her talent for decorating in the second act.

Get ready for some interesting gourmet food by Chef DeJuan Roy. Start your meal with California Citrus Salad or a Palm Spring Roll. You will have a choice of four entrees: Sirloin Au Poivre, Salmon Florentine Encroute, or Tri-Color Tortellini in Carbonera and Primavera versions. For dessert, chose from BlackBerry Slump or Mandarin Orange Cake.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see three fine performers and to enjoy the witty Neil Simon characters and their sharp dialogue, in a play that is not only funny but has lot of depth as well. Tod Booth’s direction is bang on target. The play runs through March 16. For reservations, visit alhambrajax.com or call (904) 641-1212. The Alhambra is located at 12000 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.