I REMEMBER YOU by Bernard Slade
Falcon Theater, Burbank, CA.
Robin Riker and Tony Danza
The perfectly-crafted romantic comedy – a species now almost extinct – is brought back to glorious life. Bernard Slade, where have you been all these years?
Bernard Slade could have retired young after Same Time, Next Year, a two-character comedy with plenty of dramatic heft that ran four years in New York. The next decade, he offered Tribute, a touching vehicle for Jack Lemmon, and then, the playwright’s name disappeared. Did he die? No! Did he stop writing? Absolutely not!!!
He completed the four-character, two-set I Remember You in the mid-1990s, while still in his seventies. As incredible as it may seem, he could find neither a producer, nor an appropriate star to play the lead, a frustrated song composer turned piano player (perhaps because the man turns out to be a cad). Its world premiere was held in the unlikely location of Budapest, where it was as warmly received as his other works. Still, America’s major theatres did not roll out the red carpet until producer Judy Arnold and the Falcon Theater became involved (the theater is a jewel of a house created by TV wunderkind Garry Marshall.) Arnold came up with the splendid idea of Tony Danza. Danza in turn enlisted director Walter Painter, whose reputation was established by his fine musical staging and choreography.
The Falcon Theatre/Judy Arnold production delivers where it counts. Danza is 100 percent believable as an unreliable charmer who runs from responsibility like the plague. His low-key, boyish sex appeal is almost irresistible. The narrative’s pivotal character is a British-born author/illustrator named Prunella, who fell madly in love 25 years before. Later happily married, she never entirely forgot the American who swept her off her feet. Now a widow, she learns her stockbroker daughter has fallen for the same man and she’s determined to stop the marriage. However, once the former lovers are alone again, the sparks fly. Will Buddy end up with the mother, the daughter, or neither? Impossible to guess, especially with Robin Riker playing the mother. Her looks, charm, comedy timing and suggestion of deep emotion fill every aspect of the role.
The role of Tracy cannot be an easy one for a young actress; effortless charm and exceptional sensitivity are called for in equal measure, and Madison Dunaway is not naturally endowed with either. Nevertheless, the actress comes through with an emotional depth that is crucial to the playwright’s ingenious conclusion. The very fine Richard Gilliland, always an underrated actor, is outstanding as a publisher who commissions Prunella’s work and a long-time admirer. Although the role is a total contrivance, Gilliland makes each appearance so spontaneous, his hidden ardor is believable. The production is playing a limited engagement in the Los Angeles area before it travels to a number of major cities. We will be watching the future life of this valentine to two kinds of love (between lovers, on the one hand and parents and children, on the other) with great interest. Cynical critics might dismiss the effort as contrived, but this level of skill in construction and dialogue is nothing less than magic. The astute audience at the Falcon was totally disarmed.