Monday, July 23, 2007

Old Acquaintance (The SOB Review)

Old Acquaintance (The SOB Review) - American Airlines Theatre, New York, NY

**1/2 (out of ****)

While its advance billing would suggest claws finely sharpened for a good old-fashioned catfight of the first order, the revival of John Van Druten’s somewhat dated Old Acquaintance is less reminiscent of The Women (its revival staged at the very same American Airlines Theatre nearly six years ago) than the convoluted, nearly incestuous Mia Farrow/Woody Allen/Soon-Yi Previn polygon from fifteen years ago.

Some may wonder why director Michael Wilson bothered to revive this old chestnut, long since buried in the annals of theatre. Whatever the reason, I can tell you that this pre-World War II period piece does serve up an engaging summertime helix or two in the form of three bizarre love triangles against an exquisite set design by Alexander Dodge. Van Druten also offers a rare peek at the era’s burgeoning feminine sexuality -- that is, if and when intimate boudoir talk was actually discussed openly.

At the center of each major triangle is the respected and even-keeled occasional writer Kit Markham, played with understated humor and grace by the magnificent Margaret Colin. Imbuing her Kit with a loyal and dignified air, it’s no wonder she easily attracts friends and lovers alike.

One such friend (and rival) is popular author Milly Drake -- a perfectly prickly Harriet Harris -- whose mercurial temperament and prone for excess seriously undermine her relationships and repel those she loves the most, including her daughter Deirdre (a sublime Diane Davis) and her now ex-husband Preston (a woefully ineffectual Stephen Bogardus).

Infusing her role with the appropriate mix of vanity and vociferousness, Harris not only neatly underscores why Milly is her own worst, clueless enemy, but also why this accomplished thespian is one of the best character actresses on the stage today. In her leading role, Harris delivers a thoroughly entertaining performance.

Another friend of Kit's is Deirdre, who finds refuge with her surrogate aunt from the storms that perpetually lie in her own mother's wake. In Kit, Deirdre also has a trusted confidante with whom she can contemplate her own virtue.

And then there are the men who have been drawn to Kit. The curtain initially rises on a rapturous embrace between Kit and Rudd (portrayed with sophisticated style and winning charm by Corey Stoll), a dashing young gentleman who's not going to let being ten years Kit's junior stand in the way of professing his love for her. Only, Kit rebuffs his overtures -- something she had also done years back when Preston was ready to leave Milly for her.

Just as any plot that heaps one love triangle on top of another and another would hint, this is ultimately a story of revelation after revelation culminating in a final "confrontation" between Kit and Milly. Despite the blizzard that's about to rage outside, there's not so much a storm inside as a version of True Confessions -- not exactly a satisfying conclusion, but that's what you get when you dust off an old play well beyond its freshness date.

Still, there's enough humanity and laughs left in this Old Acquaintance worthy of visiting anew.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Critics: Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot? (June 29, 2007)
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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