Getting Sara Married from Theatre Suburbia: A Sitcom Rerun, With Some Charm

The set-up:

Sam Bobrick's romantic comedy, Getting Sara Married, is so airy it floats away while we're watching. This might be perfectly acceptable when such fluff is on TV (which, trust me, is where this whole enterprise gets its inspiration), but when stuck in a theater without other distractions, a featherweight sit-com can weigh a ton of bricks.

The execution:

It's no surprise Sara has TV written all over it -- Bobrick is a former master craftsman of the family comedy. He's had his hand in The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, Get Smart, and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, among many other classic shows, so he knows all about the technique for writing comedy. He could write one blindfolded.

Bobrick knows how to set up a joke, build it, and give it a payoff which makes us laugh. He writes a good character - or at least a sketch of a character - so each plays off the other. And his timing is impeccable, as he constructs a scene with enough hints that complicate matters and keep us hanging on through the commercial breaks. These are no small talents for any writer. You can actually envision someone from the small screen as Sara when this idea would have been pitched to the networks. Mary Tyler Moore would have been perfect.

The basic hook is whimsy itself. Workaholic Sara (Sarah Jean Bircher), a lawyer in Manhattan, insists she doesn't have time for romance, doesn't want romance, doesn't "need" romance. Her yenta Aunt Martha (Jan Searson McSwain) has other ideas, and, before you can say "old maid," has taken matters into her own hands and dropped off a potential suitor -- literally. Knocked unconscious, Brandon (Ozzy Tirmizi) is wheeled in on a freight dolly by teamster Noogie (Ainsley Furgason) and dropped at Sara's feet. Can't you see Mary Tyler Moore when this happens? Her arms aflutter, her eyes wide. She'd be so cute! Emerging from his amnesiac haze, Brandon comically reveals he has a fiancée (Sabrina Rosales). Cut to his moony eyes and then a CU of Sara's surprised face. Go to commercial.

We're in sit-com land with a vengeance. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But this type of genre demands finesse and a deftness of playing that belies the gravity-less situations. It's harder than you think to pull off without letting the balloon go and having to chase it down the street, looking the fool.

Although she's an attractive performer, Bircher's tone is off. She gives Sara a lot more brittle edges than the character needs. If you let these paper-thin people start to think and have real feelings, you'll collapse their house of cards. There's no room for redemption in her Sara, and we start not to care if she gets married or not. As written, she's more prickly than soft, and it's hard to fight against this.

Tirmizi fares better, with a sweet, lighthearted approach to Brandon, probably due to those multiple knocks on the head from Noogie. He's young and reedy, barely filling out the three-piece suit, but he's light without being lightweight. When he warms to Sara, there's that glint in his eye. Kirk Cameron comes to mind.

Wacky sit-com sidekicks were invented to give comic relief, and Bobrick invents two good ones in Aunt Martha and Noogie. When McSwain and Furgason are onstage, the play feels right. Martha's an airhead with a heart of gold, who kidnaps Brandon for the purest of reasons. She just wants her niece married, and he's the closest at hand. And McSwain lands her punch lines with a pro's swagger, delivering the gems by the bagful. Furgason barrels in like a Bronx Yosemite Sam, one of those countless delivery men or telephone repairmen made famous by Neil Simon. You know, the guys who have the timing down to the second and the quip even faster. After a while, you start thinking: What if Aunt Martha and Noogie got together? What a play that would be!

The verdict:

For all its improbabilities, Getting Sara Married has an agreeable dusty charm that evaporates as soon as the curtain comes down. While we watch, it's pleasant enough, like reruns we've seen a hundred times. It's not meant to last, for there's another episode next week. Who will Aunt Martha bop on the head and send over to Sara? How about Bob Newhart?

Sam Bobrick's comedy runs through October 13 at Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Drive. To purchase tickets, visit the company website or call 713-682-3525. $13-$14.

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