The Gingerbread Lady | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Gingerbread Lady

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The Gingerbread Lady, Nextime Theatre Company, at Breadline Theatre. It was in this 1970 play that Neil Simon first addressed more serious issues than were permitted in the farces that had made him America's most successful playwright. The theater world didn't get it right away, however, and directors and actors still tried to impose on these darker scripts copious helpings of theatrical fizz.

Thirty-two years later, the new Nextime Theatre dares to take this milestone in the Simon canon as seriously as he intended. That doesn't mean all the laughs have been excised from this bittersweet tale of a recovering alcoholic, Evy, encumbered by a teenage daughter and a covey of unstable associates who cling to Evy for what fragile support she can provide. The witty dialogue is still Simon's typical hyperarticulate repartee. Unfortunately Nextime's uneven attempt to update the script's many gratuitous topical references means that Jay Leno and Jerry Springer coexist with Xavier Cugat and Ed Sullivan.

Director Chester Munro and his cast reject a facile, generic comedic approach, instead playing the material at a contemplative pace and muting Simon's cheap and/or xenophobic gags, which in effect highlights the humor that reveals character or furthers the plot. The result is a uniformly intelligent, well-integrated comedy whose happy ending seems earned by the characters' genuine self-examination and acknowledgment of human frailty.

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