Themes of reconciliation across the generational divide underscore the opening show of the Classic Theatre Festival summer season, Neil Simon’s 1979 comedy, I Ought to Be in Pictures, running until July 17 at 54 Beckwith Street East in Perth.
The story of young vagabond Libby Tucker (Alison Smyth) who shows up on the doorstep of her writer’s block-plagued father, Herb (William Vickers), after years of disconnection, is a universal tale that every family can relate to. As these former Brooklyn denizens hash out differences in sunny California, their backdrop is the world of 1970s Hollywood, when tinseltown still had a certain amount of glamour and “the business,” as insiders call the world of filmmaking, was still one of the main economic drivers for the state.
The verbal fireworks and wisecracks that ensue are delivered courtesy of Vickers, a 28-year Shaw Festival veteran who returns for his third season in Perth, and Toronto-based Smyth, who was nominated for best actress by the Capital critics Circle in last year’s CTF production of Wait Until Dark.
“I can relate to Libby because both of us carry a lot of hope inside of our heart,” says Smyth. “We both fantasize about the future and plan out important conversations so that we’re well rehearsed in the actual situation. We both seem like very confident people but have to combat a lot of fear inside of ourselves. We’re always trying to be positive about life but are constantly battling negative voices inside of ourselves.”
Smyth also likes her character’s bravery. “The fact that she made a plan and stuck by it even though she had no idea what would happen when she reached her destination. She had to go find her father because she wanted to let go of the hostility she had towards him. She wanted to go forth in her life without carrying that around. She did something for her own well being at a fairly young age. I also love the way she’s unabashedly herself, with no qualms about others’ perception of her. She just does her thing. When I was 19 I was the same way.”
Libby is inspired by actress Jane Fonda, still a major Hollywood icon after 5 decades. Turns out so is Smyth, who was impacted in a big way when she read the actor/activist’s autobiography in 2010. “At the time I had no idea, but now I see that book as a catalyst for change in my own life, change that has taken 6 years to manifest, and continues to do so.”
For Vickers, the character of Herb is “ a middle-aged, intelligent, articulate, Hollywood script writer at a crisis point in his life. He’s reached this point due to immaturity. But he has a wonderful child-like sense of humour. He takes delight in making others laugh. I’m pretty sure he was a class clown. He can be someone who is selfish, stubborn, lazy, fearful, and loves to blame others for his failures……but don’t we all? He’s human. So when Libby enters the pictures, there’s a fantastic collision of immaturity and intellect which is the fuel for wonderful theatrical conflict resulting in high comedy and sensitive vulnerability.”
Vickers received critical kudos for last year’s performance as the eccentric Victor Velasco in another Simon comedy, barefoot in the Park, and has also appeared in the Festival’s Blithe Spirit as the skeptical Dr. Bradman. A performer who seeks out a large variety of roles, he plays on stages across the country on a regular basis. He will also appear in a very different role in the Festival’s third production, the gripping mystery An Inspector Calls, in which a body has been found and everyone is suspect.
The Festival’s expanded 7th season also includes a production of George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man as well as two theatrical historic walking tours: Perth through the Ages features “River of Memory,” a new play about early Indigenous/settler relations at the time of Perth’s founding, while “A Taste of Perth” is this year’s show for the Friday night Llonely Ghosts Walk, a musical romp about the battle between whiskey distillers and feisty temperance women.
For tickets and more information, visit classictheatre.ca or call 1-877-283-1283.
CUTLINE: William Vickers and Alison Smyth square off in the Neil Simon comedy I Ought to Be in Pictures, the Classic Theatre Festival’s opening show for its extended summer season.