Come Blow Your Horn

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There comes a time in everyone’s life when you have to get serious, quit acting like a kid, and start acting like a grown-up.

It’s a pretty simple message, but that’s all the message you’re gonna get in Neil Simon’s “Come Blow Your Horn,” currently being produced at the Hale Center Theater Orem.

(Note that the Hale Center uses two sets of actors for each show. This review refers to the Monday, Wednesday and Friday cast.)

“Come Blow Your Horn” is a light-hearted, pleasant, two-dimensional comedy — and in fact, so is its main character, Alan Baker (Benjamin Berneche). He’s a Manhattan bachelor-playboy, cruising through life with no commitments, no worries, and no depth. When his kid brother, Buddy (Cody Swenson), moves in with him, though, his world is turned upside-down as the usually timid and cautious Buddy becomes exactly like his older brother.

It’s a comedy of personalities as we watch the two brothers struggle with each other — even physically, in a memorable scene near the end — with their parents, and with the two women who keep coming in and out of their lives.

Unfortunately, the production is marred by a couple of inadequate performances. Cody Swenson’s Buddy is constantly hyper and over-done, with virtually no levels, and Nancy Stewart Douglas’s Mrs. Baker, the doting Jewish mother, is much the same. Still, she got applause the night I was there for her long monologue in which she has to take several phone messages for Alan and becomes increasingly over-wrought. There’s something to be said for popular opinion; however, I stand by my opinion that she over-plays the part, to the point that it doesn’t seem real anymore. (In the scene featuring just Buddy and his mom, with both of them basically trying to over-act each other, I got a headache.)

Benjamin Berneche’s Alan Baker is quite good, though. He seems to preside over the show rather than star in it, using just the right amount of energy and emotion to make his character seem honest without over-presenting himself. He seems genuinely comfortable onstage, as if the whole thing is easy for him.

LaMarr Neilsen plays Mr. Baker, the stereotypically outraged Jewish father. (Only in Utah are Jewish fathers played by men named “LaMarr.”) His accent slides in and out, but he is sufficiently blustery and crotchety to make the character fun.

Music is used creatively throughout the show, particularly in one hilarious scene featuring the song “Born Free.” (A choreographer, Marilyn Montgomery, is even credited for this scene!) Watch for it; it’s very funny and almost surreal.

One unfortunate fact about the show is that it is written in three acts. The first two happen with no lapse in time between them, however, and so this production puts them together, with intermission and the third act following. Unfortunately, most of the action happens in those first two acts, resulting in the audience coming back from intermission expecting to see a lot more, and not realizing that almost everything that is going to happen has already happened. The material before intermission is 90 minutes long; after intermission, it’s not even half that. It ordinarily wouldn’t be worth mentioning, but here it disturbs the flow of the show, and creates quite a jolt in the storytelling.

Still, the show is enjoyable, if a little long in parts. Simon writes in a quick, breezy style, and the actors generally do a good job of keeping things fun. It won’t make you think too hard, and it won’t change your life, but it will certainly make you laugh. It’s a fun show, and that’s what really matters.

Though Neil Simon is credited with being one of the best writers of comedies in the 20th century, I have to say that I usually don't find him very funny. I've read (and performed in) a number of his shows, and they just don't do much for me. They're generally full of Neil Simon-y lines, sort of like hoary vaudeville one-liners and set-up/punchline routines. But I guess folks like him, so who am I to complain?

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