Sidney (James LePore) announces phase two – physical suffering – as Joe (Robert Rausch) rolls in agony on the floor. (Photo by Greg Rumpf)
LEXINGTON PARK, Md. – Spring is finally here as well as The Newtowne Players’ latest production of “God’s Favorite” written by celebrated playwright, Neil Simon, and directed by Rick Thompson. The show runs April 6 – 22, at the Three Notch Theatre in Lexington Park.
The play is modern day recreation of the Biblical character of Job – a man who seemingly has everything and loses it all. Simon uses humor to create a poignant tale that is as applicable today as it was in 1974 when the play was first produced on Broadway or as far back as the original reference material.
The eldest child, prodigal son David Benjamin (Nick Wood) returns home blind and Joe (Robert Rausch) pleads for his son’s eyesight to be returned. (Photo by Greg Rumpf)
Joe Benjamin (Robert Rausch) is a successful cardboard box tycoon who has a sprawling mansion on Long Island, which he shares with his materialistic wife, Rose (Robin Finnacom), and empty-headed twin teenagers, Ben (Lewis Beckley) and Sarah (Mallory Turvey-Manthorne).
Joe is a devout man, his faith unwavering; and why should it, he has been granted a cushy lifestyle and his family lacks for nothing; in fact, no matter how much he donates to the poor, he always seems to make twice as much.
After a catastrophic house fire, Sidney (James LePore) tries and fails to trick Joe (Robert Rausch) into giving in. (Photo by Greg Rumpf)
Then, on a snowy night, alarms sound off in the mansion, and it seems the Benjamin home has been broken into by a blind, possibly lame, burglar. As the family puzzles over who tripped the alarm, Joe’s eldest son, David (Nick Wood), returns home, drunk again. Assuming it must have been David who set off the alarm, the family returns to their slumber and Joe has a little chat with God about his wayward son.
The conversation is interrupted by the appearance of a stranger, Sidney Lipton (James LePore). With much pomp and circumstance, he tries to persuade Joe that he is a messenger for God; and informs Joe that the Devil has provoked God into testing Joe’s devotion. It’s all downhill from here.
Sidney Lipton (James LePore) tries in vain to explain his identity to Joe Benjamin (Robert Rausch) through many theatrical techniques and film references. (Photo by Greg Rumpf)
“The show is so fast-paced,” LePore said. “The jokes come quickly and somehow we keep our composure on stage. I’m surrounded by very funny people. It isn’t easy!”
Lepore and Rausch have really stepped up to the plate. Simon’s script is impressive and the monologues that Rausch delivers are heartwarming and poignant. He sells the rags to riches story effortlessly while LePore is the perfect comedic sidekick delivering well timed one-liners right on cue.
The skies clear as Rose (Robin Finnacom) returns home with the family, the servants and groceries! Right to left: Mady (Millie Coryer-Dhu), Morris (Larry Silvestro), Ben (Lewis Beckley), Sarah (Mallory Turvey-Manthorn), Rose and Joe (Robert Rausch). (Photo by Greg Rumpf)
“This cast is filled with good natured individuals. We look out for each other, find humor in each other’s goofs and help get through the rough patches as best we can,” Rausch said.
Millie Coryer-Dhu and Larry Silvestro complete the cast in the roles of Mady and Morris, the hired help. Their presence onstage alternately brings comedy and stability to an otherwise chaotic household.
“It has been lots of fun working with this cast,” Thompson said. “It’s been tiring, but then you expect that. As the director you’re responsible for everything; but you also get credit for some things you shouldn’t.”
Joe Benjamin (Robert Rausch) shows his twins Ben (Lewis Beckley) and Sarah (Mallory Turvey-Manthorn) the spectacles he found in the snow after a botched burglary attempt at the Benjamin Mansion on Long Island, New York. (Photo by Greg Rumpf)
For Thompson, this is a return to the show, having first directed it in 1976 shortly after it became available for community theatres and later acting the title role in 2006. Thompson humorously points out, “the favorite, not God.”
“It’s interesting to see how different casts put a different spin on the same lines,” Thompson said. “That’s what I mean by wrongful credit. This cast is funny, it’s their personality, and I look forward to being here with them every night.”
Even in the face of strained finances and freezing temperatures, the Benjamin Family – Rose (Robin Finnacom), Joe (Robert Rausch), and twins Sarah (Mallory Turvey-Manthorn) and Ben (Lewis Beckley) – find reasons to smile and laugh. (Photo by Greg Rumpf)
Thompson believes that the strength of this play lies in the humor that Simon brings to the age-old tale. “I think this is the funniest thing Neil Simon has written since ‘The Odd Couple’,” Thompson said. “At this point in his career, it was also his darkest work. It is hilarious; but Simon is a pro, he knows how far he can go and when to pull back.”
Take a moment to leave your own troubles at the door this April and enjoy this humorous romp through the misfortunes of Joe and his family, expertly handled by The Newtowne Players.
Tickets are available at www.newtowneplayers.org/tickets or by calling 301-737-5447.