Friday, June 29, 2007

Critics: Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?

Critics: Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?

Last evening, the first-ever Broadway revival of Old Acquaintance opened at the American Airlines Theatre. Overall, critics gave this 66 year old John Van Druten play helmed by Michael Wilson a rather lukewarm welcome.

Heralding the show as a "tasty chestnut," USA Today's Elysa Gardner offers three out of four stars: "There was a time, though, long before Rosie and Elisabeth or Paris and Nicole had at it, when the feline grudge match could be a modest art form, practiced by women of wit and relative discretion. OK, so some of these confrontations were staged, literally -- with playwrights (a good number of them male) fashioning the verbal blows. But the gals throwing the jabs made such capable and classy contenders that no one dared challenge their authority....(Harriet Harris) and (Margaret) Colin also reveal the abiding affection that make Milly and Kit more convincing and interesting as a dueling duo than most of their contemporaries."

Calling it a "mildly entertaining, maddeningly disjunctive revival," The New York Times's Ben Brantley says the two lead actresses are inhabiting different eras: "Both approaches offer insight into a period piece that turns out to have accumulated less mold than you might expect. But seen in close proximity, they cancel each other out. That’s too bad. As written, Old Acquaintance...has the surprising charm of a decades-old best seller you might come upon in your grandmother’s library. You pick it up to skim, thinking it could be a hoot, and then it hooks you with the wit and craftsmanship that define its vintage as much as its setting does....If only everyone could stay on the same page."

Labeling it a "tepid revival," Eric Grode of The New York Sun shares many of the same criticisms: "[T]here aren't enough ice cubes and fabulous gowns in New York to yank the focus from Ms. Harris's steely grip....But while her heavy lifting and Ms. Colin's equally rigorous performance are each diverting on an individual level, the two very different acting styles never meld together in any sort of plausible manner. The anticipated tussle falls flat here, with Ms. Harris forced to ratchet up the hysterics to convey a comparable frisson."

Allowing that the show is "mildly diverting," David Rooney of Variety laments: "The comic verve of Harriet Harris and the elegance of her co-star and foil, Margaret Colin, make the three acts pass painlessly, but the play's catfight lacks claws just as its lovefest struggles to summon warmth....Wilson keeps the play motoring along briskly enough, yet the production strains to find its groove, exposing the material's flimsiness. It's never quite as much fun as it should be."

Grumbling that "they set a standard that might be difficult to lower," Clive Barnes of the New York Post offers a one-star review: "It's hardly a play panting for resuscitation. It's hard to believe anyone would want to take it out of drama's attic of discard, and, even after dusting it off, not have put it back or send it -- with little hope and less charity -- to the Salvation Army.... Harriet Harris...does have one fantastic piece of business with a telephone, which is the night's one bright moment."

The reviews won't likely lift the show's box office, which last week was hovering just under 70% capacity -- the average ticket price was only $42.47. But given that it's the only "new" play to open this summer, it may get a lift simply from those hoping to see something different.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Old Acquaintance Opens Tonight (June 28, 2007)
"Sands In The Clouds," Or Why I Love Harriet Harris (June 27, 2007)
Summer Brings Old Acquaintance Harris Back To Broadway (March 23, 2007)

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At 30 June, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 30 June, 2007, Anonymous Nell S. said...

Re:"Old Acquaintance," other than maliciously skewering two superb actresses, what leaps out in the reviews quoted is the horrible fear some critics must have of seeming suburban. As if their edge consisted in their inability to enjoy a revival on its own terms. Lighting into a Mid-century relic for suboptimal relevance is like going to "My Dinner with Andre" and being baffled that Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory didn't discuss 9/11.

Belittling the efforts of others more gifted and brave than you are has a few interesting rules. For instance, apologizing for your subjectivity, not making a festival of it. The recognition that when you strongly don't like something, it's probably about you, is disarming, just as acknowledging it when you're gushing allows you to go on gushing without undermining the very point you hope to make.

These reviews just make me angry at white men sitting on their prostates. They don't keep me out of the theatre. What is urgently to be hoped is that they will soon begin to keep their writers out of the theatre.

Thanks, Steve for a great blog...

At 30 June, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Nell, I love your inspired line about "My Dinner With Andre"!

What never ceases to amaze me is how wide ranging critical reviews actually are.

In the case of Old Acquaintance, we have New York Post Clive Barnes on one end of the spectrum and USA Today's Elysa Gardner on the other.

In his review, Mr. Barnes absolutely skewers Diane Davis and Stephen Bogardus by stating: "Michael Wilson's staging is so stilted that it permits Diane Davis, as Mildred's ditsy daughter and Stephen Bogardus as her determined ex-husband, to give the two worst performances of the season."

Strikingly on the other side is Elysa Gardner who states exactly the opposite: "Director Michael Wilson also coaxes period-savvy performances out of the winning Corey Stoll, as Kit's beau, and Diane Davis and Stephen Bogardus, as Milly's daughter and ex."

My mind was spinning after reading those reviews almost back-to-back. It's as if two entirely different performances were reviewed, isn't it?! That's also one of the reasons why I try to provide more than a handful of reviews to let my audience make up their own minds.

Ultimately, it all comes down to individual taste, coupled with where one's mind is at the time they're seeing a show. And personally, none of the reviews for Old Acquaintance would stop me in my tracks from buying a ticket.

At 11 July, 2007, Anonymous nell s. said...

Steve, the suspense is killing me. See "Old Acquaintance" and tell the world.

At 12 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Nell, I'll be seeing the show soon and will certainly provide it with an SOB Review!


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