I Ought To Be In Pictures is not one of Neil Simon’s best. The scenes stretch on forever, the dialogue is jumpy, and the blossoming father-daughter relationship that makes up the heart of the play is unconvincing.
With that disclaimer out of the way, South of Broadway’s current production manages to make the most of every laugh with a strong cast that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is a real virtue for this particular play, which is rich in overly sentimental moments that, if they are to be borne, must be handled with a lighter touch.
I Ought To Be In Pictures is the story of a 19-year-old girl named Libby who shows up unannounced on her screenwriter father’s doorstep. The father, Herb, abandoned Libby, her younger brother, and their mother when Libby was three years old, and Libby hasn’t seen him since. Now working as an unsuccessful screenwriter in Los Angeles, Herb and his dingy little home present a disappointing picture to his daughter’s dreams of Hollywood glamour, but as they work through various volatile emotions, each begins to accept the other and rebuild the relationship that was severed so suddenly years before. They are helped along the way by a sweet, sensible, and patient woman named Steffy, who is dating Herb.
Maggie Borden as the larger-than-life, yet utterly vulnerable Libby does a wonderful job of portraying the overcompensating attitude of a hurt teenager. She and Mark Poremba, as the washed-up Herb, share the stage comfortably, moving gracefully from yelling fights to tearful embraces throughout the course of the story. Poremba works equally well with Laura Rose’s Steffy, who in many ways is the play’s voice of reason — even though her decision to stay for two years with a man who tells her outright that he sees other women, and only has her over once a week, is anything but reasonable.
South of Broadway makes excellent use of their space with the set, which somehow just screams Southern California — maybe it’s the pink walls. The production got off to a late start due to some last-minute work being done, and a couple of the actors did seem a bit flustered opening night. However, that agitation did little to detract from the play. Since the characters themselves spend much of their time worried, uncertain, or just generally unhappy, the occasional tenseness onstage only served to make them more believable.