The setup: Before the play opens, womanizer and cad Charlie Sorrel has been caught in the act of having an affair and been killed, but is reincarnated in the body of a younger woman. The comedy develops as Charlie and George, his best (and only) friend, deal with ensuing complications. The brilliant playwright George Axelrod had preceded the 1959 Broadway opening with major hits -- The Seven Year Itch and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? -- but the rocky reception of Goodbye Charlie drove him to Hollywood, where he penned the screenplays for Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Manchurian Candidate.
The execution: Axelrod's effort here takes an amusing idea and stretches it into a full-length evening. The good news is that along the way he provides the opportunity for some telling insights into the world of male chauvinism and gives some first-rate actors the chance to lure us into this contemporary fable and seduce us into believing in its reality. We only see Charlie after the reincarnation, but Rebecca Seabrook, a tall, willowy blond with striking good looks, adds enough male body language and mannerisms to provide the required laughs. I would day she carries the show -- she is that good -- but she is so well-supported by John Mitsakis as George that I hasten to write they carry the show. These two are alone on the stage for much of the evening and their pas de deux of discovery and adaptation is a wonder and a pleasure to watch. Even in a 20-minute drunk scene, Seabrook holds us in thrall almost to the very end.
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The other main character is Charlie's mistress, Rusty, played amusingly by Angela Denny, who is able to move convincingly from comedy into the warmth of love called for in Act Two.
The other actors are good but hardly necessary to the goings-on, except to add exposition in the opening- memorial-service group scene, before Charlie and Rusty enter -- and the acting here is vivid, perhaps a shade too vivid. Director Jay Menchaca keeps the pace brisk without stepping on the nuanced performances. With this cast and this direction, Goodby Charlie might have lasted longer on Broadway.
The verdict: Brilliant and subtle acting and skilled direction groom a half-century-old warhorse into a show jumper. A most entertaining evening and a joy to watch.
Through September 24, Theatre Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505.