Theater Reviews

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American Airlines Theatre, New York
Through Aug. 19


John Van Druten's comedy "Old Acquaintance" has inspired not one but two film adaptations -- one in 1943 starring Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins and a 1981 remake titled "Rich and Famous" with Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen -- but it surprisingly has not been seen on Broadway since its 1940 premiere. The Roundabout Theatre Company has rectified this situation with their revival starring Margaret Colin and Harriet Harris as best friend novelists competing for personal and career satisfaction, but neither the play nor this production are outstanding enough to stake a claim for the work as a neglected classic.

Director Michael Wilson has provided a sensitive enough staging, and the design elements, particularly the lavishly detailed sets making clear the main characters' contrasting financial states, couldn't be better. The play, however, lacks the comic fizz and the depth necessary to make it compelling viewing, despite its continued relevance as a portrait of career women coping with the ramifications of their personal choices.

In the case of Kit Markham (Colin), the serious and highly regarded novelist who has precious little in terms of book sales to show for her efforts, it means dealing with the loneliness engendered by her having remained single and childless. Meanwhile, her best friend Mildred Drake (Harris) is a hugely popular author of trashy novels who lives in a gorgeous Park Avenue apartment. Divorced and prone to drink, Mildred has a daughter, Deidre (Diane Davis), who ironically idealizes not her but Kit.

During the course of the play, Kit must decide whether or not to embrace the marriage proposal of her younger lover (Corey Stoll), though the situation quickly proves more complicated than expected.

This old-fashioned, three-act effort boasts satisfying characterizations and dialogue, but it doesn't quite measure up to the level of many of the beloved drawing room comedies of the same era. Not helping matters in this revival is the casting: Although the statuesque Colin certainly conveys the necessary intelligence and sophistication, she doesn't quite display the magnetism necessary to make us fully care for her character. And Harris, though expert at conveying vengeful bitterness, tends to overplay the physical shtick here, relying too much on mugging and pratfalls for comic effect.

The supporting players, with the exception of Stephen Bogardus as Mildred's patient ex-husband, tend toward blandness, as does the production overall. While the director's gentle approach can be respected, it drains the proceedings of the necessary bite.

OLD ACQUAINTANCE
Presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company
Credits:
Playwright: John Van Druten
Director: Michael Wilson
Set designer: Alexander Dodge
Costume designer: David C. Woolard
Lighting designer: Rui Rita
Original music/sound designer: John Gromada
Cast:
Katherine Markham: Margaret Colin
Mildred Watson Drake: Harriet Harris
Preston Drake: Stephen Bogardus
Deidre Drake: Diane Davis
Rudd Kendall: Corey Stoll
Susan: Cynthia Darlow
Karina: Gordana Rashovich
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