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Center Stage

Ring-a-ding-ding yet right at home

7/30/2014

“Come Blow Your Horn,” by Neil Simon at Ankeny Community Theater, Aug. 1-17. Shows Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.

“Come Blow Your Horn,” by Neil Simon at Ankeny Community Theater, Aug. 1-17. Shows Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.

“One thing we’ve learned,” declares Jo Reid, the director, “is that folks in Ankeny just love Neil Simon.”

Really? Granted, “Come Blow Your Horn” is far from the first Simon piece that Reid has done. She’s been with Ankeny’s Community Theater for 30 years. Still, the match hardly seems made in heaven.

Neil Simon is to Broadway as Woody Allen, his former colleague in TV comedy, is to indie film: a quintessential New Yorker. He’s best known for “The Odd Couple” (itself set in Manhattan), but he’s had a dozen other hits plus a string of successful movies, all rooted in the five boroughs. Another title, “Lost in Yonkers,” says it all. The guy can’t hack the suburbs — let alone central Iowa.

Nonetheless, this production felt remarkably congenial in the late rehearsal I caught. It felt like the ingredients were all in place and warming nicely. Reid herself was bubbling over.

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“The appeal of this show is watching a cast with such chemistry,” Reid said.

That chemistry — or human element — is essential for Simon. He’s got his screwball bits, but by and large the plays feel homey. “Come Blow Your Horn” hit Broadway in 1961, and nowadays audiences will recognize the world from “Mad Men.” The set features an apartment bar stocked with decanters and padded with big-buttoned, café-au-lait leather. There’s a Don Draper, too, named Alan Baker. Yet the drama’s more low-key than you’d see on cable. For all its yucks, this is a story of overgrown adolescents finally getting a life.

As rehearsals got underway, Reid put together a poster with a few celebrity snapshots. Each one, she felt, was the embodiment of a certain role. For Alan Baker she used Frank Sinatra. So Michael Proche, as Alan, is trying for ring-a-ding-ding. He juggles his women with his hips loose, and his smile is insouciant (a vastly different figure from his grieving father in Stagewest’s “Clybourne Park”).

Still, Alan’s coming-of-age isn’t some Rat-Pack caper. Rather, it’s spurred by the love between him and his younger brother Buddy. Their give and take, with Michael Garrison as Buddy, percolates nicely. The costumes add to the effect, with Buddy in a black suit and bow tie, Alan in casual plaid and khaki (Woody Allen’s preferred outfit, actually). The one-liners emerged with fine emphasis. All you need to know about their uptight parents, for instance, is revealed in Buddy’s announcement: “Well, the living room is still closed to the public.”

Among the other players — as you’d expect in a farce, most turn up just when least expected — the player to watch is Tara Porche, making her theater debut opposite her husband, Michael. She’s playing Connie, the one girl about whom Alan might get serious.

How’s the chemistry? I’ll just say it’s worth finding out if, for this show, these folks can park Ankeny in the Big Apple.

Overheard in the Lobby: Catch the DMACC production “Athena,” (comedy plus social commentary) at the Civic Center this weekend. CV

John Domini is Cityview’s “Play Mate” theater critic who pens our weekly Center Stage column. He is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

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