'Accent on Youth'

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"Accent on Youth" is a 75-year-old play, and with its new Broadway revival it looks every bit its age. This mild drawing-room comedy by Samson Raphaelson — better known for such efforts as "The Jazz Singer" (it was a play before it was the 1927 movie) and the screenplays for "Trouble in Paradise" and "The Shop Around the Corner" — feels like a bottle of champagne that's long lost its fizz.

Not that there's anything terribly wrong with this production directed by Daniel Sullivan for the Manhattan Theatre Club. It certainly looks smashing, thanks to John Lee Beatty's gorgeous art-deco living room set, Jane Greenwood's elegant period costumes and Brian MacDevitt's caressing lighting design.

Its star, David Hyde Pierce, uses his pitch-perfect comic timing, honed for so many seasons on "Frasier," to fine effect. The actor even has a period look about him, resembling one of those ubiquitous character actors seen in countless 1930s films.

But his efforts are not enough to prop up this decently crafted but uninspired 1934 comedy about a successful playwright, Steven Gaye (Pierce), who decides to abandon his latest script — concerning a love affair between an older man and a much younger woman — and retire. His loyal secretary, Linda (Mary Catherine Garrison), freed from her duties, takes the opportunity to declare her love for him, and the two begin a relationship that mirrors the age difference between the characters in his play.

The second act takes place months later, with Linda now rather unconvincingly transformed into an actress starring in her lover's play. But the couple's happiness is threatened by the attentions of Dickie (David Furr), the handsome leading man who has fallen hopelessly in love with her.

While it might play perfectly well in a nice summer stock production on Cape Cod, "Youth" lacks the comic punch to make much of an impact in a high-profile Broadway revival such as this. There are some laughs, mostly provided by Charles Kimbrough's hilarious performance as a loyal manservant who will happily resort to fisticuffs when necessary. And the supporting cast, especially Byron Jennings and Lisa Banes as Gaye's stalwart resident actors, are perfectly fine.

But it's not enough to salvage a sleepy period comedy that is likely to leave the matinee ladies dozing contentedly. (partialdiff)
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