Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“The Pleasure of His Company” – The Old Globe Theatre
AIRDATE: AUGUST 1, 2008
Director Darko Tresnjak likes to rummage through the attic of forgotten plays. He unearths a neglected bauble, dusts it off and polishes it to a dazzling sheen. Last year, he brought new luster to “ Bell , Book and Candle,” and this year, he’s applying his burnishing skills to “The Pleasure of His Company,” a comedy that hasn’t been revived since its 1958 Broadway premiere, though it was made into a successful movie in 1961.
It’s definitely an insubstantial trifle, but its message, if it has one, is a tad unsavory. Carpe Diem, it says. Well, that part’s okay. But it goes further, encouraging or condoning leaving behind your gray, everyday life (even if that includes a loving fiancé and a wedding two days away) and allowing yourself to be seduced into taking flight, not taking responsibility. Charm trumps everything in this silly but slightly nasty little comedy by Samuel Taylor, with Cornelia Otis Skinner. Even if the charm is shallow and narcissistic. Even if you’ve got a wonderful life waiting for you. A dollop of culture, adventure, world knowledge and un peu de français can entice anyone.
Jessica seems like a perfectly sensible young lady, approaching with calm aplomb her upcoming marriage to a nice, Stanford-educated cattle rancher. Her mother and stepfather like him just fine. Even her crusty grandfather approves. And then her long-absent father breezes in. She hasn’t seen him in 15 years, but she’s totally swept away. She bears him no malice for ignoring her all these years, ‘ cause she’s followed his international exploits, keeping a scrapbook of his adventures, travels and conquests. So when he wines and dines her, whispers sweet French nothings in her ear, paints enticing pictures of the glories of Europe, makes her fiancé look like a dolt and a dullard, comes onto her mother, captivates her grandfather and even beguiles the Chinese houseboy, she’s ready to follow him anywhere. They all are. Oh, he’s charismatic, all right. But also supremely self-absorbed and self-important, with a gaping hole of loneliness inside. Still, he makes everyone else feel like their lives are unsatisfying and unfulfilled. Jessica sees through him and still wants to go off with him.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten all these pesky plot points off my chest, I can tell you that Tresnjak, artistic director of the Old Globe, has created an absolutely stunning production. The set is jaw-dropping, a gorgeous, woody San Francisco mansion with the Golden Gate Bridge out the window, backed by an ever-changing sky. The costumes are beautiful, and a pitch-perfect cast squeezes every ounce of juice out of the characters. The clever dialogue is punctuated by pratfalls, so there’s something comical for everyone. The play may leave a bad taste in your mouth, but the production is most certainly something to savor.
“The Pleasure of His Company” runs through August 10 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park .
©2008 PAT LAUNER