“Mister Roberts,” the Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan play being revived on the Old Globe Theatre’s outdoor stage, feels like the opening of a time capsule.
So this is how they used to write and cast plays! Wow! Note the 30-person cast--29 of whom are white males. Observe the slow, careful plotting with dilemmas broadcast in exclamation points: Will Mr. Roberts (immensely likable “Airplane!” star Robert Hays), a cargo officer aching for combat duty, agree to stop requesting a transfer if the despotic captain (a growling Ramon Bieri) grants the crew liberty? Will the crewmen learn of Mr. Roberts’ secret bargain with the captain? Will they help him get that transfer anyway?
Is there any doubt about anything?
The Old Globe picked the show in celebration of its 60th anniversary year in part because “Mister Roberts” was the company’s first big hit, earning an unprecedented $70,000. It secured the Globe’s future financially and burrowed a place for the theater in the hearts of the military service community, which contributed Navy men as actors in what was, after all, a valentine to them.
Executive producer Craig Noel, the company’s guiding spirit who directed it then, does the honors again in the wake of his 80th birthday. Five actual members of the U.S. Navy perform in the show, several serve as ushers and still others were in the opening night audience.
It seemed to play well to older patrons, but it’s hard to imagine “Mister Roberts” appealing to Baby Boomers who grew up during the Vietnam War--except for the fact that Mister Roberts challenges the captain’s authority at every turn. That at least foreshadows the Angst of the generation to come.
It’s also hard to imagine females of younger generations laughing so easily about sailors getting drunk and using binoculars to leer at women taking showers on neighboring ships.
Still, the show is handsomely performed and staged and does generate some genuinely affecting moments at the end. Ralph Funicello’s ship, which the crew clambers up and down with ease, opens up to reveal both the captain’s and the officer’s quarters. And the seals barking from the nearby San Diego Zoo provide a nice real-life addition to Jeff Ladman’s sounds of the sea.
* “Mister Roberts,” Lowell Davies Festival Stage, Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego. Tue.-Sun., 8 p.m. Ends Sept. 30. $20-$36. (619) 239-2255. Running time: 2 hours, 19 minutes.
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Jack Winans: Chief Johnson
Robert Hays: Lt. (JG) Roberts
William Roesch: Doc
Andrew J. Traister: Dowdy
Ramon Bieri: The Captain
John Walcutt: Ensign Pulver
Larry Raben: Dolan
Andee Mason: Lt. Ann Girard
With: David Mann; Leo Stewart; David Natale; Paul Fitzgerald; Eric Almquist; James O’Neil; David Prentiss; Mark Hill; Michael Brandt; Scott Ferrara; John Worley; Russell Edge; Scott Eberlein; Scott Ferrara; Robert J. Ford; Robert Adams, U.S. Navy; Chad M. Brockbrader, U.S. Navy; Glen A. Cook, U.S. Navy; Harold J. Kover, U.S. Navy; David F. Ronzello, U.S. Navy.
An Old Globe Theatre production of a play by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan, directed by Craig Noel. Sets: Ralph Funicello. Costumes: Andrew V. Yelusich. Lights: Michael Gilliam. Sound: Jeff Ladman. Vocal/dialect coach: Claudia Hill. U.S. Navy Technical Adviser: JOCS Kevin P. Clarke. Stage manager Raul Moncada.