The show: "I'm Connecticut" at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Essex
First impressions: Would the romantic comedy by the Emmy Award-winning writer-producer of "The Simpsons" — and Connecticut native — Mike Reiss, be as hysterically funny as when I saw it at its world premiere in 2011 at Connecticut Repertory Theatre — or would the sober reality of a second viewing cool my initial enthusiasm? The good news is that the yucks and sweetness are still there, even if the production has some ragged spots. The surreal looniness, the breaking of the fourth wall, and the sometimes-edgy, sometimes-gentle humor makes this an escapist delight and, in its own weird and wonderful way, a source of nuttymeg pride.
So what's so funny about Connecticut?: That's Reiss's point in this tale of identity, stereotypes and schlemiels.
Marc (once again played with easy-going nebbishy charm Harris Doran) is a nice young Jewish neuroscientist from Simsbury who lives in New York with his lovable grandfather (Jerry Adler, repeating his role with exquisite comic timing), who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's.
Oh, that's a knee-slapper: Well, sometimes the best comedy is that which allows us to laugh at some uncomfortable things. Reiss pushes several of these questionable areas — including one indelicate plot point that's a jaw-dropper.
What's it about?: The 20something Marc is lonely in the Big Apple with feelings of romantic and sexual inadaquacy. Attending a speed dating session, he finds that his nice-guy style and beige outfits aren''t cutting it. His buddy Kyle (nicely played with a wicked Massachusetts accent by Gino Costabile), and the alpha manager of the speed dating service (Bill Mootos), tell him his well-grounded Connecticut roots are holding him down. "If Connecticut were a country, it would be Canada," he is told. (Oh, Canada responds to this charge later in the show.)
When Marc falls for Diane, a pleasant-enough receptionist from Georgia (Gwen Hollander), he tries to give his family history some oomph by telling a whopper that gets him some color and cred from his new squeeze. When his lie is revealed right before the first-act curtain, the match goes south. But with the urging of his grandfather and Diane's sharpie mother (Rebecca Hoodwin), the young lovers are re-united.
Boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl. Yawn.: Well, I admit the main story is pretty thin and the romantic turnaround is pretty facile. And now that I think about it the character of Diane is almost as bland as Marc and things could have been helped by some quirky, or highly comic casting. Still, the simple love story is almost beside the point. You have to just let go and not think too much and treat it as if was a script for the Marx Brothers as revised by Woody Allen.
Under Jacqueline Hubbard's direction, the laughs come fast and furious — and the sudden surreal touches would feel right at home on "The Simpsons." (New Hampshire and Vermont gay lovers? Yep. Florida as the well-endowed state? Sure. And little old Rhode Island makes a tiny cameo, too.) The jokes mocking Connecticut's seal, nicknames, shape, motto, accents — or lack of — and adopted son Mark Twain — are as non–stop as an episode of "Laugh-In." (Reiss has even adds a few gags about Ivoryton, though I miss the gag about Storrs.)
Doran's Marc also has great fun breaking the fourth wall — an old Neil Simon device — establishing a sweet, loopy rapport with the audience, even sharing a slice or two of fruitcake.
Who will like it?: Fans of "The Simpsons," Woody Allen and Mark Twain.
Who won't?: Brooke Shields. Some square states without a sense of humor. (They know who they are.)
For the kids?: The older ones, sure — they watch "The Simpsons," don't they? Though some of the language is pretty salty.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: Nice people of Connecticut unite! Be proud!
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: I still am not sure how this show would play beyond our borders. The romantic story would need to be made more compelling, the characters of the grandfather and Dianes mother would have to be expanded and the play would have to step back and ask some greater existential "Annie Hall"-type questions about then nature of romance, identity and destiny. In the meantime, it's remains a Connecticut treasure.
The basics: the The show runs through June 23. Running time is about 90 minutes, including an intermission. Performances are Wednesdays at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $40; $35 for seniors;' $20 for students, $15 for children. Information: 860-767-7318 and www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.
Reiss will give after-show talk-backs Friday and Saturday, June 7 and 8. I stayed for one and there was an additional 15 minutes of off-the-cuff laughs. Give the man a talk-show.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun