News Column

Actors 'Play It Again' for Woody Allen play

September 14, 2013


Sept. 14--Ben Lievens grew up on Woody Allen films. He's been a fan of the filmmaker's praised black-and-white movie "Manhattan" since he was little.

Lievens now has the opportunity to portray a character that was created and performed by Woody Allen in 1969.

"Play It Again, Sam," which opens at Ames Community Theater on Friday, stars Lievens as movie critic Allan Felix, a recently divorced man who is trying to keep his life together.

"It's very easy for me to be Woody Allen. I'm short, and I wear the glasses by nature," Lievens said.

Lievens, a native of Parkersburg who rejoined performing theater last year after a 10-year hiatus, said the play is a dark, fast-paced situational comedy with characters you can relate to and empathize with, despite their high emotions.

The play also features Ben Smith as Humphrey Bogart, who exists only in Allen's mind.

Bogart is a big mentor to Allen, but is only a fixture. He doesn't give advice that doesn't already exist in Allen.

The play features plenty of dream sequences -- some obvious, some not -- that are all taking place in Allen's mind. They show how he imagines himself.

Smith, an ACTORS veteran, had never seen many Bogart movies prior to taking the role. He's making progress to try to imitate the legendary actor of the 1930s and '40s.

"I'm finding it a little difficult," Smith said. "Part of his mouth movement was because Bogey had false teeth, so I've been working on trying to get that down."

He has watched many more of Bogart's movies since taking the role but hasn't seen the movie version of "Play It Again, Sam," which starred Woody Allen and favorite partner Diane Keaton, because he doesn't want it to influence how he plays the actor.

Smith isn't alone in avoiding the movie.

Brandon Brockshus and Moria Borys, who play Dick and Linda Christie, Allen's friends, have also not seen the movie for the same reason.

Linda is a fun but neglected woman married to a man who loves his work. Allen and Linda have some chemistry but Allen is unsure how to handle the situations that arise.

"I like this part because Linda is a very strong woman, something that Allen is really good at writing," said Borys. "It's a good story for the character because of the high energy going on."

Brockshus, an Iowa State senior in performing arts who has been in several past ISU Theatre productions, said his character puts his work ahead of his marriage.

He said the fantasy scenes are some of the most fun because he gets to play a wide range of twists to his character and provides some unexpected twists, too.

Lievens said the play is easily identifiable as Allen's work.

"I think it's his writing -- it's classic New York," he said. "You read it and you know it's by Allen because of the dialogue and the relationships between characters. It's the idea of taking something that's simple like a conversation with a woman and making it into a neurotic mess. Or even something as tragic as a divorce and making it have a dark humorous twist."

In more modern terms, Lievens compared "Play It Again, Sam" to Judd Apatow's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" because they are both about a guy who is "stuck in his own world" and it's up to his friends to "help develop him into a better person."

Borys and Brockshus said the setup is like most modern romantic comedies. Brockshus particularly pointed out the 2001 movie "Shallow Hal" because of the fantasy setup where the lead character sees people based on their inner beauty.

Lievens said the show is a roller coaster of emotions, going from highs to lows at an incredible pace.

"It's not about hitting a one-liner every three pages," Lievens said. "It's about making a whole situation and building it where you start off simple, and it gets bigger and more awkward. And I will make it more awkward than you thought possible. "

"Play It Again, Sam"

When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20, 21, 27 and 28; 2 p.m. Sept. 29

Where: Ames Community Theater, 120 Abraham Drive

Cost: $15

Runtime: About 1 hour 45 minutes

Cast: Ben Lievens, Brandon Brockshus, Moria Borys, Lacey Camille Schroeder, Ben Smith, Sarah Gidlewski, Emily Griffin, Emily Lynn Thurmaier, Mataya Huling, Raven Wine, Sarah Gidlewski


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