'Proposals' shows a love for humor

The Baltimore Sun

Before Monday's rehearsal of Bowie Community Theatre's coming production of Neil Simon's Proposals, director Jerry Gietka mentioned the problem of adding humor to America's wittiest, most successful playwright.

Gietka felt the need to bring in two "Mutt and Jeff-type bodyguards" to beef up the comedy whose laughs come mostly from a malaprop-prone Mafioso character.

"This is a very difficult script to bring off. It's not a typical Neil Simon play," Gietka said. "This play moves more on the ebb and flow of the dialogue and the changes in mood brought about by changes in feelings among the various relationships. The director and the actors have to find a way to get and keep the audience involved in the various relationships and the changes in them."

Gietka said he has tried to enhance the intensity of the play's emotions by "incorporating both sound and lighting effects to help bring the audience into the spirit of the scenes and help set the mood and effect the changes."

To accomplish that, Gietka has an ideal colleague in lighting and sound designer Garrett Hyde.

"Jerry is one of the few directors I get a chance to work with whose creativity, skills and vision of a production integrates lights, sounds, music and set with the acting to produce the feelings and emotions intended by the playwright," Hyde said. "So many community theater directors seem unable to integrate lighting and sound into a production except in a very rudimentary way."

Not a side-splitting comical farce like Simon's The Odd Couple or Rumors, Proposals received mixed reviews at its 1997 opening and ran only two months.

As in Simon's later works like Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound, this play uses narrated flashbacks. Here for the first time Simon makes a black woman a central character: Clemma, who serves as housekeeper and a counsel to the family.

The play looks back to 1953 in the Poconos, where 55-year-old Burt is recovering from his second heart attack and dealing with his daughter Josie's romantic relationships as she breaks her engagement to Ken. She is more interested in Ken's best friend, Ray, who is involved with fashion model Sammii. Josie has another suitor - Vinnie of the Miami Mafia. Burt awaits a visit from his estranged spouse, Anni, whom he still loves, while Clemma dreads the prospect of the return of her husband, Lewis, who walked out on her seven years earlier.

All eight characters wind up in what will be their last summer together at the family cabin.

Gietka does double-duty in the role of Burt with TiaJuana Rountree playing Clemma Diggins and Melissa Meyd as Josie. Other cast members include Jake Koenig as Ken Norman, Richard Tovish as Ray Dolenz, Janice Coffey as Anni Robbins, Tania Rosa Bindhoff as Sammii, Michael Rogers as Vinnie Bavasi, Louis Murray as Lewis Burnett and Craig Miller and Melody Wihler as bodyguards.

Proposals runs April 20 through May 5, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park, a half-mile from the Anne Arundel County border on Route 3 South. Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 for students and seniors. 301-805-0219.

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