Neil Simon was, it’s been said time and again, one of America’s funniest playwrights.
But Simon, who died in August at age 91, was aiming for more than laughs — and that’s how Harlequin Productions is approaching his 1980 “I Ought To Be in Pictures,” opening this weekend at the State Theater.
Simon himself told interviewers that he wrote about people he knew and situations he’d lived through.
“Pictures” is about a screenwriter whose daughter comes to see him 16 years after he abandoned her. Simon’s own father left his mother repeatedly during his childhood.
“The idea is not to make a play funny,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2012. “The audience will do that for you. The world makes things funny.”
“The play reflects very true, very honest human qualities that we have in our relationships with our children, with our parents, with our partners,” director Corey McDaniel, who starred in Harlequin’s 2018 “I Am My Own Wife,” told The Olympian. “We can all relate to that on many levels because we all have these experiences.”
McDaniel, producing artistic director of Seattle’s Theatre22, is particularly interested in plays about hope and redemption and finds plenty of both in “Pictures.”
Out-of-work writer Herb (Jason Haws, whose 30 Harlequin roles include Max in the company’s 2015 production of Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor”) might be more in need of redemption than most. Not only did he disappear from the life of now-teenage Libby (Elex Hill), Herb is what McDaniel calls “committed but noncommittal” in his relationship with long-suffering girlfriend Steffy (Ann Flannigan).
These relationships are at the play’s heart, McDaniel said, as is the opportunity to right past wrongs and find a new way forward.
“We all have unresolved issues,” he said. “Whether we realize it or not, we all have a desire to be able to put a period at the end of these emotional sentences that follow us.
“ ‘I Ought To Be in Pictures’ does that,” he said. “It allows these characters the opportunity to express what is holding them back and gives them an opportunity to put a period at the end of the sentence.”
‘I Ought To Be in Pictures’
- What: Neil Simon’s dramedy opens at Harlequin Productions
- When: 8 p.m. Jan. 17-19 and 23-26, Jan. 31-Feb. 2 and Feb. 7-9, with matinees at 2 p.m. Jan. 20 and 27 and Feb. 3
- Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
- Tickets: $35 general admission, $32 for seniors and military, $20 for students and youth; for the Jan. 23 performance, pay what you can.
- More information: 360-786-0151, harlequinproductions.org