JOHN GOLDFARB, PLEASE COME HOME
nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
August 21, 2007
John Goldfarb, Please Come Home takes place during the Cold War in the early 1960s. The show begins in Fawzi Arabia with a going-away party for Prince Ammud, son of the despotic and whimsically oblivious King Fawz. Ammud is on his way to Notre Dame to realize his dream of playing football for the Fighting Irish. The loopy send-off includes a full harem of Russian women toting gold tasseled pom-poms cheering the Prince onto victory. The song they sing comes off as an interpretation of niche Americana but the earnestness with which they carry it off is infectious. I had no idea what was going on; but it was so interesting and well-played, I couldn't have cared less.
Enthusiasm is the guiding principle of John Goldfarb. It runs through every aspect of the production from the candy-coated lighting to the simple, multi-purpose sets to the robe-and-fez-wearing band seated at the lip of the stage to the buoyant book and score, and culminates in the gleeful performances by a cast up for anything thrown their way. Director Jeffrey Lewonczyk deserves credit for channeling these enthusiasms toward sustaining William Peter Blatty's clever but overly complicated script. The result is a musical that tries the patience but rewards the parts of us that love the optimism of The Good Old American Musical.
The Plot: After the Prince's send-off, King Fawz receives a gift from the United States. This gift, a pig skin suitcase, sends the King into a rage. The President and his bickering, culturally ignorant cabinet work to soothe the King's ego, whose land holds vast oil reserves.
In another plot strand, a proto-feminist newspaper reporter named Jenny "Iceberg" Ericson is sent to Fawzi Arabia for an undercover story on women in the Harem. She thinks her talents deserve more substantial fare but is manipulated into doing this.
Meanwhile, the State Department wants to send a spy to the Soviet Union. The spy they recruit is John Goldfarb, a clumsy, Jewish, ex-college football player who earned the nickname "Wrong Way" for running the football into his own end zone. "Iceberg" Ericson gave him this moniker and he loathes her for it.
Goldfarb's plane goes astray and he winds up in Fawzi Arabia, where he meets up with Ericson. Prince Ammud returns from Notre Dame, Goldfarb is bribed into coaching the Fawzi Football team, and the King bribes the United States into having this team play Notre Dame on Fawzi Soil.
Blatty's book tests patience for not allowing plot points and comic possibilities the room they need to develop. It proposes obstacles and dismisses them before we have a chance to see the complications—and laughs—they elicit. There are some interesting ideas about government and religious relationships that lose resonance because of it.
Some of the work is truly hilarious though. The State Department staff, led by the put-upon, Kennedy-sounding President played by Adam Hargus, does some amazing ensemble work. Jay Klaitz and Mardie Millit as Goldfarb and Ericson, respectively, perform a delightful duet. Jay Klaitz also does some amazingly silly work in duet with George DiCenzo, whose King Fawzi is a piece of work in itself. His role in the perfectly executed Hula Hoop gag is a beauty to behold.