Back in the 1950s, having sex with someone who wasn’t your spouse was really complicated. We know this because “The Seven Year Itch” by George Axelrod was one of the decade’s most popular plays . . . and a Billy Wilder movie starring Marilyn Monroe, with that iconic image of her skirt billowing up above her waist.
Live Theatre Workshop has opened its own version. Sabian Trout is directing. We also note the movie, with its wide distribution among the commonfolk, has a much more conservative ending than the play. Hollywood was taking no chances with such racy material, although the play doesn’t include that billowing skirt scene.
Statuesque and beautiful Missy Scheffman (who is also blond) has the unenviable task of hoping to make the audience forget about Monroe.
Cliff Madison plays Richard, the married guy who’s afraid his libido might be getting restless after seven years of marriage. The role was played by Tom Ewell in the movie. Richard is kind of a schlub – definitely not a swinger. As he says early in Act One, “I’ve been married so long I don’t know if I’m still sophisticated.”
Richard is also trying to stop drinking and stop smoking. Of course, he has no luck with this strained regimen. He’s “on the wagon” while she wants to “drink like a fish” and “smoke like a chimney.”
Please be warned there is some smoking onstage. The effect is kind of startling. Tucson’s anti-smoking brigade has had such a rabidly rigid influence on the city, we have come to think smoking in public is practically obscene. To some people, the actors could be having sex onstage and it wouldn’t be as offensive.
“The Seven Year Itch” is played as a straight period piece. It was an instant hit on Broadway in 1952, but the humor hasn’t traveled well through 50 years of America’s declining interest in fidelity. In a summer when the raucous comedy “Knocked Up” is doing big box office business at the movies, Axelrod’s fantasy about cheating on his wife seems downright quaint.
Since there wasn’t much air-conditioning around back then, either, Axelrod sets his play in motion by sending Richard’s wife Helen (Kristi Loera) and small son to Maine for the summer. Apparently it was a common practice, which gave rise to the term “summer bachelor.”
Richard is idly listening to a baseball game on the radio when his summer bachelorhood is tested by the discovery of a new renter upstairs, a ravishing fantasy figure he knows only as The Girl (Scheffman). Her presence creates a no-win situation for Richard.
As he sees it, the only thing worse than doing something he will regret forever is to not do it and regret forever that he never tried. We are left to wonder if mature men and women in their 30s really did take such moral dilemmas so seriously. Since the play and the movie were so popular, it must have touched a deep nerve with many people.
But the boomer generation has been so successful convincing us nothing important happened between World War II and the 1960s, it’s hard to imagine anything from the ’50s besides the TV show “Happy Days.” Mostly we are left to watch Richard’s fidgety sexual fantasies and The Girl’s unassuming sexual awareness while wondering, “What’s the big deal here?”
If Richard was alive today, he’d be in his 80s. Would he still be harboring twinges of regret? Or would he be feeling equally liberated by our ongoing sexual revolution?
IF YOU GO
What: Live Theatre Workshop presents “The Seven Year Itch” by George Axelrod
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 2
Where: Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd.
Price: $14-$17 (with cash discounts)
Info: 327-4242, www.livetheatreworkshop.org