For Jason Utesch, helming Valparaiso’s Chicago Street Theatre’s production of “Play it Again, Sam” is an ideal fit.
“In the shows that I’ve directed, I seem to be drawn to an imaginary character or something that’s off-kilter, where there’s a playfulness with reality,” he said. “You have that, and you have this great humor already in the script.”
Running through April 19, “Sam” tells the tale of Allan Felix, a shy, San Francisco-based screenwriter returning to the dating scene following a troubling divorce. To guide him through the singles strata, Felix relies on a fictional guide in the form of Humphrey Bogart.
Allen penned “Sam” in 1968 and starred as Felix when it made its Broadway debut a year later. It ran with more than 450 performances and received a trio of Tony Awards, including a best supporting actress award for Diane Keaton.
In 1972, Allen adapted his play for the big screen, with both himself and Keaton revising their onstage roles, to great acclaim.
“Usually, if I read a script and I laugh out loud, it’s a good sign, and I did that a few times with this one,” Utesch said. “You have the humor that’s there, the tight writing, the whimsical play on reality, and then the opportunity to play this as a period piece. All combined, it makes for something interesting.”
Jordan Chaddock from Porter plays Felix and Valparaiso’s Jeff Schultz portrays Bogart in Chicago Street’s “Sam.” They are joined onstage by Lindsey Elderkin from Valparaiso as Felix’ ex wife, Nancy, Lowell’s Matt Stinnett as Felix’ friend Dick Christie, Valparaiso’s Mary DeBoer as Dick’s wife, Linda, and a trio of Valparaiso-based thesps, Lori Utesch, Rebecca Fortner and Melissa Daloisio, assuming multiple roles of women who catch Felix’ fancy.
While remaining loyal to the era in which “Sam” was originally written, staged and filmed, Utesch and Chaddock made a point to put their own touches on the main character.
“One of the things (Chaddock) and I talked about when he was cast was that we don’t want a Woody Allen impersonation,” Utesch said. “We want that type of character, the intelligent, awkward person who doesn’t realize that he’s awkward, but not Woody Allen."
Next up for Chicago Street Theatre is a production of the drama “Rabbit Hole,” scheduled to open May 23.
FYI: “Play it Again, Sam” will be performed at 8 p.m. April 11 and 12 and April 17 to 19 and 2:30 p.m. April 13 at Chicago Street Theatre, 154 W. Chicago St., Valparaiso. Tickets are $18 adults, $15 students and seniors and adults in groups of 10 people or more, $12 students in groups of 10 people or more. Call (219) 464-1636 or visit CHICAGOSTREET.ORG