The two would-be lovers gaze into each other’s eyes. It is a perfect romantic moment; they are fated to be together, cannot live without each other. As Belle Schlumfert Poitrine (Teri Cowan) and Noble Eggelsted (Kim Blackett) slowly reach out to touch each other, the romance heightens. The lighting changes, the music swells. And the characters seem oddly aware that they are onstage, that their love is somehow artificially manipulated—that they are acting.
Little Me, currently playing at the Egyptian Theater, is a ridiculously self-conscious and dark-humored take on the traditional “rags-to-riches” story that is made more enjoyable by its self-aware style. Adapted from a book by Patrick Dennis, Neil Simon and Cy Coleman’s play is a tongue-in-cheek look at the life of Belle—a well-endowed young lady from the wrong side of the tracks—as she seeks “wealth, culture and social position” to be with the man she loves. Even as the emotional intensity of her search grows, she maintains a space between herself and her audience.
The whole play similarly—and intentionally—distances itself from the audience, which makes the events even more outlandish; in one scene that takes place during a bloody WWI battle, the characters barely notice the combat going on around them. Because this is Belle Poitrine’s autobiography, the characters comment on their situations in hindsight rather than act them out in the present time. Furthermore, since most of the actors in the show play multiple characters—Blackett plays seven characters, including all of Belle’s love interests—it’s impossible not to notice the gap between the people on stage and the personalities they portray. Blackett’s portrayal of Noble, the wealthy man Poitrine loves, turns the character into a strict parody rather than a real human.
Like Noble, the other characters make few pretenses of being actual people with actual emotions. They have such single-minded goals, they fail to notice the absurdity of what happens in the pursuit of those goals; the play’s irreverence and immorality become more entertaining than disturbing. As Belle attempts to climb the social ladder, she causes the deaths—albeit unintentionally—of many people who help her along the way. Her lack of true regret is the only tie that binds the seemingly unconnected elements of Belle’s life. By the time Belle poisons a wealthy prince from an imaginary country, her antics seem funny rather than callous.
While the play’s plot is more a random menagerie of events and songs than a cohesive story, this style creates an entertaining tone. As one absurd event leads to another, the audience gets caught up in a spiral of increasingly crazy situations. The haphazard story works, though, because the play is a parody rather than an attempt to create believable situations. The witty dialogue and occasionally raunchy double-entendres, though not laugh-out-loud funny, save the often ridiculous plot, and create the real laughs. Noble and Belle’s explanations early in the play of why they can’t be together are particularly egocentric and farfetched.
In addition to the characters themselves, the over-the-top musical numbers provide the finishing touches to the play’s self-aware absurdity. The music and the choreography derive straight from traditional musicals, almost in a self-mocking way, but the lyrics contribute to the play’s irreverent theme. The content of Belle and Noble’s often-repeated love song undermines its surging melody, emphasizing how Noble will love Belle “the best that [he] is able” given their unequal social standings.
Neil Simon’s first play does not attempt to uncover a hidden element of human nature, nor does it attempt to make any sweeping moral judgments. It’s simply an entertainingly self-aware farce about all of the little people who get trampled as one not-so-little woman rises to the top.LITTLE ME Egyptian Theatre Company 328 Main Park City In repertory with Lucky Stiff Wednesday through Sunday Through Sept. 5 888-243-5779