By Pat Launer
A clownish imp who’s never serious about anything can be really annoying. Not so with Scottie Templeton; everyone loves him. Everyone except his estranged son, that is, a super-solemn young man who’s felt abandoned and ignored by his irresponsible actor-father his entire life.
Bernard Slade (a film and TV writer best known for “Same Time, Next Year,” the play and movie) throws a few women and a terminal illness into the mix. As the specter of death looms, Scottie’s friends and family stage a “Tribute.” That’s the setting for this lesser, 1978 Slade creation, whose Broadway production and 1980 film starred an acclaimed Jack Lemmon.
Robert May, a well-regarded local director who rarely makes stage appearances, isn’t what you’d call preternaturally funny. But he embraces Scottie at Scripps Ranch Theatre, and is especially potent in the more sober scenes.
All the performances are well-crafted (Julie Sachs is especially solid and credible as Scottie’s ever-loving ex-wife), but the play still, somehow, despite all its issues and resolutions, feels unsatisfying.
There are definitely some groans and guffaws to be had (funnyman Fred Harlow contributes to that), New York accents to savor (Laura Bohlin and Morgan Carberry) and some very poignant moments (May with Jake Rosko, and others), which turn out to be the high points of the production.
Under the direction of Francis Gercke, the first act feels a tad sluggish, but Act 2 picks up steam as it ties up all the loose ends. Some of the direct-address tributes, scattered throughout the play, work better than others.
The serviceable set (Andy Scrimger) is especially well appointed (by expert prop-mistress Angelica Ynfante); among Scottie’s comical collection is a rubber chicken, a full-blown chicken suit, a multi-colored clown wig and a red nose. The costumes (Teri Brown) are an attractive and period-appropriate array (the action is set in 1978).
Although the play has its secondary, dying-man theme, it’s really about friends and family — and not taking life too seriously. And we can all use a periodic reminder of that.
- “Tribute” runs through Feb. 15 at Scripps Ranch Theatre, on the campus of Alliant University
- Performances are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
- Tickets ($26-$29) are available at 858-578-7728 or online at www.scrippsranchtheatre.org
- Running time: 2 hrs. 15 min.
Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at www.patteproductions.com.
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