Unless I've missed some obscure part of his oeuvre, I would hazard
the guess that no one will ever accuse Neil Simon of creating
fully-dimensional, true-to-life characters. Most of them are half-people
who exist largely as comic outlines.
Yet in those one- and two-dimensional creations he touches again and again on universal themes that resonate with all of us: the need to belong, the need to be loved, and of course relationship issues. Never for a moment should we assume that his characters do not deal with reality, even if we’re usually laughing at them.
In the opening scene, Charity Hope Valentine meets her "boyfriend" Charlie in Central Park. When he gets his chance, Charlie pushes her in the lake and runs off with her dowry. Some boyfriend.
… the dance and song numbers keep the story moving merrily along without too much technical razzle dazzle.At the dance hall where she works as a hostess, the other girls tell Charity to face reality. She refuses. He’ll come back, she claims. How does she even know Charlie loves her? Because when she tells him she loves him, he replies "Ditto." Hopeless, unrealistic, and yet how many of us have been one half of that couple we find so funny on stage, starving for love?
Director Morris Panych brings out these sweetly comic moments with ample flair. More than a month after its opening, the comedy is tight and effective. (I had heard otherwise.) The dancing is mostly in equally good shape, though a tush or two always seemed to be off the beat in the major ensemble opener, Big Spender. (Maybe it's hard to choreograph bottoms, but that's not a good thing.) What is right is very right indeed, however, and the dance and song numbers keep the story moving merrily along without too much technical razzle dazzle. Just like in an old-fashioned musical.
Simon leads us to that emotionally-fraught moment where truth is revealed.As the self-seeking Charity, Julie Martell delivers a highly capable performance, nicely supported by co-stars Mark Uhre as playboy Vittorio Vidal, and Kyle Blair as Oscar, her fussy, purity-obsessed suitor. Their comic conundrums seem comfortingly real.
True to form, after an array of comic silliness, Simon leads us to that emotionally-fraught moment where truth is revealed. Charity fears telling her new boyfriend, Oscar, that she has hoodwinked him and cannot stand it any longer. She must confess. Little does she realize he already knows the truth: she doesn't work in a bank. She works in a dance hall.
For a time, at least, Oscar says it doesn't matter because Charity makes him feel alive. It's what love's all about. For all the characters' lack of dimension, these are moving moments and we're right up there with them sharing in their triumph over petty human foibles. While it may not last, Sweet Charity has her moment of truth, and so do we.
Sweet Charity runs at the Shaw Festival until Saturday, October 31, 2015.
Performances at the Festival Theatre, Niagara on-the-Lake.
Directed by Morris Panych, with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields.
Based on the book by Neil Simon.
Starring Julie Martell, Mark Uhre, Kyle Blair.