A farce is like a chocolate souffle. It needs a light touch to keep it from falling flat.
That delicacy is missing from Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's revival of "There's a Girl in My Soup," Terrence Frisby's 1966 generation gap and gender-role comedy about a middle-aged womanizer who meets his match in the cheeky 19-year-old he tries to seduce.
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"There's a Girl in My Soup"★ ★ ½
Location: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, (847) 577-2121 or metropolisarts.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 23. Also 1 p.m. Jan. 30.
Running time: About two hours, 20 minutes with intermission
Parking: Free adjacent garage and street parking
Rating: Sexual innuendo; suitable for late teens and older
The main problem has to do with tone. While director David Belew employs physical comedy to nice effect, the production feels tepid at times and lacks a kind of sustained ebullience or zaniness one usually associates with the genre.
Frisby's comedy -- which ran more than six years in London and inspired a 1970 film starring Peter Sellers and Goldie Hawn -- centers around noted TV personality and author Robert Danvers (a nicely preening, agreeably narcissistic Russell Alan Rowe). He's the forty-something star of his own cooking show, described by his editor as the "sexiest gourmet on both sides of the Atlantic."
An unrepentant womanizer, Robert is enjoying a rendezvous with his current paramour Clare (Lisa Savegnago) as the play opens.
She has news: She has received a marriage proposal. That announcement, made in '60s London where the action unfolds, neither interrupts their affair nor their tryst. That falls to Robert's comfortably conventional editor Andrew Hunter, whose arrival sends Clare scurrying.
The faithfully wed Andrew (the tweedy Colin Wasmund, whose impassive delivery earns laughs) observes that Robert treats his "sex life like a continuous wine tasting: roll them up and spit them out." Robert insists the challenge of seducing a new woman excites him. Their banter eventually leads to an amusing test of virility involving push-ups, which is interrupted when the Hunter family nanny (Ashlee Edgemon) comes to fetch them.
We meet Robert again early the next morning as he arrives home from a party with the much younger Marion (a confident Shanna Brown), who has just broken up with her drummer boyfriend Jimmy (Sean Walsh), and whose pragmatic, supply-and-demand view of sex bears more than a passing resemblance to Robert's own romantic worldview.
Unfamiliar with his work, unimpressed by his celebrity and unmoved by his attempts at seduction, she poses an irresistible challenge. For her part, Marion recognizes Robert wants one thing only. It's the same thing that motivates Jimmy, who confessed as much then added: "what else have you got to offer?"
That's a bit mean-spirited, even for a period comedy.
Marion's scoffing at Robert's corny pickup lines ("my God, but you are lovely" works well for him) and comparing him to her father earns her the upper hand but sours the mood. And it is not improved by the arrival the next morning of a hung-over Jimmy, whose invitation to Marion to live with him and another woman sparks fireworks and sends Marion into the arms of Robert, who fails to recognize in the younger man's self-serving attitude a reflection of his own shallow, commitment-averse approach to courtship.
Frisby's writing has humor and his observations are keen. But "Soup" sorely needs some heat, and this production generates too few sparks to provide it.