Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
June 5, 2015
There are many plays about sons not meeting their fathers’ expectations…. but far fewer about daughters not measuring up to their mothers’ exacting standards.
Award-winning playwright Victoria Stewart set out to fill this literary gap, with an adaptation of an adaptation. Both “Washington Square,” the 1881 novel by Henry James, and its acclaimed screen and stage versions, “The Heiress,” concern a dominating father and his spinsterish, super-shy offspring. But “Rich Girl,” the 2013 comic drama making its West coast debut at The Old Globe, has a biting twist.
Poor rich Claudine has grown up in the looming shadow of her brittle and brutal mother, a bitter divorcée who refashioned herself as a TV celebrity, dispensing financial wisdom. Emotionally abusive and neglectful, she’s kept her daughter on a very tight leash, monetarily and otherwise.
Claudine is a klutz, both physically and socially. To toughen her up, Mom puts her in charge of the family Foundation’s grant-giving. One of her supplicants is a charming, adorable theater-maker whose experimental company is floundering. Claudine turns down his economic request, but not his personal invitation. They soon decide to marry, but icy, cruel Eve won’t have it, insisting that Henry is nothing but a gold-digger.
The three-way conflict, refereed by Eve’s personal assistant, takes some interesting turns. The young man’s motivations are ambiguous here. The question of whether the daughter will assume her mother’s chilly malice remains uncertain.
Under the direction of beloved local, James Vasquez, the production moves at a lively clip. The design is outstanding and the ensemble excellent. But the play is flawed, with a sitcom-y first act and a melodramatic second. Claudine’s physical clumsiness is silly and unnecessary; she’s awkward enough without it. And the character of Maggie, the assistant, often strains credulity.
The cynical view of romance is troubling, to say the least. Most chilling are Maggie’s final words: “If you act like you love, how is that that any different from being in love?”
Pre- nups , background checks and fake attraction. How very 21st century.
“Rich Girl ” runs through June 21 at The Old Globe in Balboa Park.
©2015 PAT LAUNER