The sweet and haunting siren's call takes many irresistible forms.
I found two in “Sirens,” a contemporary comedy about the arc of a marriage that riffs on Homer's “The Odyssey.” The show opened the Omaha Community Playhouse's 89th season Friday.
Noah Diaz, playing an aging lothario whose back has gone out, is an absolute scream as he tries to seduce Rose Abrams between pain spasms and aborted ear nibblings. Diaz combines inspired broad physical comedy with a gift for funny vocal delivery as Richard, and he had the audience at a Thursday preview howling in the second act.
Regina Palmer, a new face at the Playhouse, nearly stole Act One as the siren who lures Rose's husband, Sam, to jump overboard during their 25th anniversary cruise. Once he washes up on her island, though, she just wants him to die already, so she can totally concentrate on an electronic game that washed ashore. She's addicted to it.
As the blasé, self-absorbed siren, lithe and beautiful Palmer is a contrasting and equally effective brand of funny, as uninterested in Sam as Richard is overly attentive to Rose.
She's also a gem in tiny supporting roles as a travel agent caught between feuding Sam and Rose, as a waitress at the fine-dining scene of seduction, and as a va-va-voom sexy cruise passenger who sashays in a white bikini — each time a siren to the men in her path.
This is in no way meant to take anything away from veteran talents Ablan Roblin and Judy Radcliff as Sam and Rose, a couple struggling to find the spark that brought them together in the first place. They scored plenty of laughs, too, scrapping over everything from his roving eye to her lost patience with waiting on him, both literally and figuratively.
Sam is a songwriter. His one massive hit, which he wrote about Rose when they fell in love, plays everywhere. But Sam wants another hit, and 25 years is a long dry spell. He blames the dying embers of their marriage for his dying inspiration to compose. Lately he's been obsessed with a song he started to write for the woman he loved before Rose. That's led him to search for her on Facebook, and to “friend” a whole lot of other women in the process.
Rose's livid response is to throw back in Sam's face Richard, the man she might have married until Sam came along.
Then comes their 25th anniversary cruise, the siren, Sam jumping overboard and Rose calling up Richard when she thinks Sam is dead, only to have Sam pop back up on her big date night.
I had three reservations even as I laughed often at this light, frothy comedy. I thought Diaz was far too young to be cast as Sam and Rose's classmate — until director Amy Lane explained Richard is supposed to be cast young, the way Rose sees him rather than the 50-something he is. I wish the script made more clear the reason for Richard's young appearance.
I also wondered how audience sympathies might have shifted if Rose had a little less edge in early scenes. I wanted to be on Rose's side more than I was, though her anger and irritation tripped laughter, too. I loved the warmer, softer side of Rose glimpsed later.
Finally, I thought the scenic design's stepped, raised platforms suggesting islands felt like an obstacle course — the steps so high, skinny and steep that they impeded the actors. Gotta admit, though, Richard and his sore back were funny trying to scale them.
In any case, “Sirens” gets an easy thumbs-up for the clever writing, the laughfest that it is, and four talented performances — plus the timeless subject of coping with a marriage that's grown stale.