Play It Again, Sam: A Romantic Comedy In Three Acts, by Woody Allen
It is easy to see how Woody Allen views himself (and other nebbish and guilty people like him) from this play. I happened to randomly find this particular play in my library, and being at least mildly curious about Allen’s work as a playwright (he also acted in the role of Allan, the play’s notes helpfully tell me, when it was first performed on Broadway). This play gratified my curiosity, even if it did not convince me that the author was as good a person as the play seemed to make himself out to be. The play was helpful, though, in demonstrating his own view of how marriages fall apart and what kind of person he sees himself, and it is probably for the best that he writes and makes films now and does not act in them, as his shtick is a consistent one that does not wear well into old age. Be that as it may, the author does a good job in portraying a middle-aged person struggling with loneliness and isolation and the problems of love, and manages to be generally if not entirely sympathetic, which is impressive given the negative perspective many readers are likely to have about Woody Allen.
This is a romantic comedy in three acts, the first act of which is divided into two scenes. In fact, it is a play that barely qualifies as a comedy, and that largely thanks to the brief third act. The play begins with a suitable set-up, as Allan, a nerdy movie reviewer, is left by his bored wife Nancy, who wants more action and doesn’t find him to be attractive or exciting or fun anymore. The next scene shows his friends Dick and Linda trying to help him find another woman, and it does not initially go well. The second act has Allan struggling with his limited amount of women that he knows well and a brief affair that he has with Linda and then keeps quiet because Dick ends up needing Linda and not wanting to leave her after all. Finally, after all of those false starts, Allan finds himself with a beautiful young new neighbor who loves his film writing, and the reader (or viewer) of this play can believe that there is at least some sort of love in store here. Throughout the play, at least until the end, we also are privy to Allan’s active imagination, which includes having Humphrey Bogart as an unlikely internal wingman.
How one feels about this play depends on several things. For one, the author’s moral worldview is definitely lacking. He views adultery and fornication not as sins but rather as things that make one uncomfortable. His lead character doesn’t show a great deal of courage in trying to make a marriage work and tends to portray leaving partners as irrational. The fact that timidity is the cause of relative morality more than moral courage is fortunate, but hardly common. In reading this play, one can understand clearly that the author considers himself to be someone who is put upon and guilt-ridden, but he is not as moral as he thinks he is, and one can see that a neurotic and sex-obsessed person as Woody Allen appears to be in this play (and his work for movies) could very easily conduct a private relationship that he didn’t want to be viewed as public in order to satisfy his lusts without causing a public furor, until it did. Far from being an insignificant play from a writer whose film work is more known than his playwriting, this play helps to explain some of the complex issues that a writer faces in trying to turn his neuroses into comedy.