On one hand, it is not really about the 1977 Academy Award-winning mega-hit movie “Annie Hall.” On the other hand it is saturated in it. The current Vineyard Playhouse production of Sam Forman’s comedy, “The Rise and Fall of Annie Hall,” which runs through Saturday, August 7, is about the compromises and tribulations of making it big on Broadway, about relationships, and about the verity of what goes around, comes around.
Here’s where Woody Allen comes in: Everything is carried out with the character traits, the rhythms, and the devices associated with Mr. Allen’s classic films — long expository monologues directed at the audience, ongoing references to his most memorable film moments, even titles that light up marquee style on the set to introduce scenes (“The Terrific Little Interview in Vanity Fair,” “A Time to Grovel”).
At one point Henry says, “I felt like Woody Allen was standing over my shoulder guiding me along the way,” paralleling what Mr. Allen’s character did with Humphrey Bogart in “Play It Again, Sam.”
Nerdy, self-absorbed, Henry Blume – Aly Singer by any other name – is, at 30, still being supported by his parents, who own a chain of Ruth & Ronnie furniture stores in Boston. Henry aspires to fame as a Broadway musical writer, and we first find him sloughing toward glory with his constantly stoned college composing partner Will, (smartly played by Lucas Papaelias). Their last success was the adaption “Birds of a Feather,” based on Chekoff’s “The Seagull” at Northeastern University.
Henry’s increasingly disengaged girlfriend Annie (they haven’t had sex since the invention of Twitter) is a sunny actress from the Midwest (an engaging Heather Girardi), who he thinks should see a therapist.
Annie watches as Henry and Will come up with ideas for shows like “Titus Obamacus,” and “When Pushkin Comes to Shovkin,” before deciding to write a musical based on “Annie Hall,” because it has two of Henry’s favorite things: paranoia and anti-Semitism.
The show’s playwright, Sam Forman, takes over the role of Henry in the Playhouse production. It’s not an easy task, as so much depends on the character who is passive, unsympathetic, and the architect of his own angst. We watch as he ditches his partner, cheats — or at least tries to — on his girlfriend, and misrepresents himself to Producer’s Daughter (long-legged blonde wonder Kate Gersten), who he’s stalked on Google in order to use her connections to the celebrated Tortured Genius (skillfully animated by Austin Lysy), who already owns the rights to bring “Annie Hall” to Broadway.
Ahh, but when Tortured Genius dangles the possibility of collaboration in front of Henry, all bets are off with his rank-and-file friends. Still, somehow we can’t help but believe that Henry’s going to wind up in a fetal position on his couch.
“The Rise and Fall of Annie Hall,” 7 pm, Tues., Wed.; 8 pm, Thurs.–Sat. Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. Runs through August 7. $30; $25/seniors. vineyardplayhouse.org.