Energetic play has romance and fast paced satire

by David Dixon

Courtesy of Kevin Berne
Courtesy of Kevin Berne

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! There’s only one week left to see the West Coast premiere of the extremely entertaining comedy, “His Girl Friday,” at the La Jolla Playhouse. This adaptation is based on the classic screwball film with the same title, which was influenced by the play, “The Front Page.”

Set on the evening of Aug. 31, 1939, the show focuses on Chicago newspaper reporters waiting for scoops at the pressroom of a criminal court building. An editor of a paper, Walter Burns (Douglas Sills), wants to investigate a story regarding a Jewish anarchist, Earl Williams (Patrick Kerr), who is going to be executed for murdering a cop.

Walter is convinced that Earl does not deserve to die and wants someone to help him figure out the facts behind the incident. That someone is Hildy Johnson (Jenn Lyon), a former reporter who is divorced from Walter and engaged to a wealthy mama’s boy, Bruce Baldwin (Donald Sage Mackay). Tensions rise as Walter tries to flirt with Hildy, while revelations regarding Earl puts both of their lives in danger.

“His Girl Friday” is a very compelling theatrical experience, since the production satisfies in a variety of ways. On the surface, this is an old-fashioned romantic farce involving two people who are obviously right for one another. Also, the consistently clever dialogue, adapted by John Guare, is delivered in such an engaging way that spectators quickly become invested in the consistent back-and-forth banter between Walter and Hildy.

This new stage version is a satirical depiction of working for a big- city newspaper in the ‘30s. Guare doesn’t glamorize the lives of news writers whatsoever. Most of the correspondents are cynical jokesters who spend much of their time goofing around and seem to have little passion for their careers. There are plenty of laughs watching writers such as Endicott (Evan D’Angeles), Wilson (Dale Morris) and Kruger (Victor Morris) trying to outwit one another as a result of boredom.

Aside from being a tale of love and journalism, “His Girl Friday” works just as well as a social commentary and mystery. The plot deliberately takes place shortly before World War II, so audience members can empathize with Earl, who some of the characters simply dislike because of his religion. Guare actually takes this subplot very seriously and the generally lighthearted gag fest has a surprise dimension of relevance and well-developed pathos.

Artistic director, Christopher Ashley, seemed to have a lot of fun creating the world on stage. While every scene takes place in one gigantic room, he recreates the 1930s newsroom with endless detail.

Ashley stages a spectacular sequence at the end of Act I revolving around—SPOILER ALERT—a jailbreak. Watching the comedic chaos that occurs is unconventionally magical.

If there is an issue with “His Girl Friday,” it’s the fact that the opening 15 minutes, while funny, can be confusing. There’s so much information given that trying to keep track of everything can be overwhelming. However, once Walter and Hildy are introduced, events immediately pick up and make sense.

With great chemistry between Sills and Lyon, “His Girl Friday” has plenty to appeal to anyone in the mood for fast-paced humor. Purchase tickets before it’s yesterday’s news.

Tickets and information about “His Girl Friday” can be found at lajollaplayhouse.org.