Thursday, April 25, 2013

RICH GIRL, a sure to please the audience production at Cleveland Play House

The plot:  self-made vindictive wealthy person, inhibited daughter, handsome suitor who may be after her money, parent attempts to torpedo the relationship.  Sound familiar?  It should.  That’s basically the storyline of the Henry James novella WASHINGTON SQUARE and the play and film, THE HEIRESS.  It’s also the basic description of Victoria Stewart’s RICH GIRL which takes from the past, but the play which is opening  Cleveland Play House’s 2013 NEW. THEATRE. FESTIVAL., adds comedy, infuses a little intrigue, and takes a 21st century twist.

The story centers on Eve and her daughter, Claudine.  Eve, is a self-made woman with a very large chip on her shoulder regarding men, and a mission to make sure that all women of means go into marriage with a pre-nup.

Eve’s marriage, which produced Claudine, ended when her husband, after years of being supported by Eve, walked out when he finally “made it.”  Eve develops a large foundation with a healthy endowment.  She becomes a television empire financial expert and evangelist--think CNBC’s Suze Ormand--with a large female following.

Obsessive compulsive Eve manages the world around her.  She controls the foundation, her assistant, her daughter, her apartment, and everything that enters her sphere, even, for a while, the cancer which she has fought into remission.  Suddenly her sphere is invaded by Henry, a young, handsome and charismatic theatrical actor and director, who attended a prestigious eastern academy with the shy, inhibited, klutzy Claudine.  Henry has applied to the foundation for funding.  Claudine, who is an intern at the foundation, has been told to refuse him.

She does so, but much to Eve’s displeasure, the duo gradually develop a relationship.  Mamma dearest suspects Henry’s only interest in the daughter, who she perceives as having many negative physical and psychological characteristics, is his desire to latch on to Claudine’s money.

What follows is both a funny and intriguing tale of women and their relationships with men, other women, and money, which ends with Claudine having to make a decision about whether to agree with her mother about Henry’s intensions. 

Stewart’s script is well-written, though one might question whether the ending would have been more emotionally wrought if the last blackout would have come fifteen second earlier.  (No, I won’t reveal what happens as it ruins the ending.)  As is, the conclusion leaves us semi-hanging, rather than completely left on our own to figure out the outcome.

The production, with this same cast and director, premiered the play at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey this past March to very positive reviews.

The cast is headed by Lakewood native Dee Hoty who earned her equity card at CPH.   She went on from here to become one of Broadway’s favorite leading ladies, earning three Tony nominations.

Later this month she will be inducted into the Cleveland Play House’s Hall of Fame.  Past inductees include Joel Gray, Dom DeLuise, Margaret Hamilton, Ed Asner, David Frazier, and Marlo Thomas.  Each of the inductees has made “meaningful contributions to CPH.”

Hoyt dominates the stage as Eve.  This is a focused, well conceived characterization.  She doesn’t portray the character, but consumes it from beginning to end.

Crystal Finn well transforms from the inhibited Claudine, who we meet early, into a motivated leader, who we view at the conclusion.  But, even channeling in that growth, Finn has developed a person who still retains the underlying vulnerability of a girl/woman with insecurities.

Liz Larsen, creates the proper levels of humor and sincerity as Maggie, Eve’s assistant and Claudine’s only true friend.  She has a nice touch for comedy.

Tony Roach is convincing as Henry, Claudine’s handsome suitor.  He wisely develops the role so that we are never quite sure if he is a charlatan, after Claudine’s money, or a nice guy who loves and wants to protect her.

Wilson Chin’s set design allows for easy flow from restaurant, to television studio, to grand New York apartment.  This is another good example of the value of CPH’s move into its new homes.  The effects that Chin creates on the thrust stage would have been impossible in the theatre’s previous proscenium arched spaces.

Michael Bloom has paced the show well, aided the cast to develop focused characterizations, and done a nice job of building both the humor and the pathos.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  RICH GIRL grabs and holds the attention, the cast is strong, and the technical aspects excellent.  Go see this sure-fire audience pleaser!

RICH GIRL runs through May 19 at the Second Stage Theatre of the Allen complex in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to