NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Claudine is a wealthy young woman whose mother, Eve, has made money the Suze Orman way, by telling other people how to invest and protect their assets.
Money is basically what’s behind the plot of Victoria Stewart’s new play, a contemporary version of the Henry James novel,“Washington Square,” as well as the stage and screen productions of “The Heiress.” Even the ending has shades of letting in a charming scoundrel or saying goodbye to love and whatever risk that might entail. Does she or doesn’t she succumb to romance?
The dialogue is smart and snappy as three women, Eve and her daughter, along with Eve’s friend and assistant, Maggie, explore the give and take, or lack thereof, in relationships.
Dee Hoty is smart and sophisticated as the somewhat cold, calculating mother whose daughter doesn’t quite measure up. Eve eventually shows her vulnerability towards the end of Act II. Crystal Finn plays the socially awkward Claudine, who falls in love with Henry. Tony Roach has the looks and sex appeal to make him just about irresistible. Liz Larsen is the "gal Friday," always available to soothe tempers and calm emotional waters. The first act, in particular, zips along with possibilities. By the second act, we seem to be falling into soap opera land, when the comparisons with "Washington Square" are all too obvious.
Henry is an actor, director, whatever, trying to make a name for himself in the tough theatre world. A couple of years later, when Claudine learns he is ‘surviving’ in regional theatre, she isn’t sure whether to see him or not. But Maggie has taken matters in hand and arranged a meeting. Does he still care for her or is it her money that he’s after?
Director Michael Bloom keeps this play sparkling and Stewart’s dialogue is continually brittle and entertaining. Wilson Chin’s set design is fluid, with a stunning New York City living room dominating most of the stage. Matthew Richards’ lighting and Jennifer Caprio’s costumes are effective, especially Hoty’s elegant dress-for-success outfits. The play is a co-production with the Cleveland Playhouse.
There’s an air of independence in this updated scenario that would most likely not have been possible in the Washington Square days of Henry James. In today’s economic, and more liberated climate, true love doesn’t have the sway of a happy ending or a cure-all …or maybe people are more jaded about that ‘happily ever after” scenario. This play certainly takes a bow to ‘pre-nups.’ And women have many more options than being married or being ‘an old maid.’ In the film of “The Heiress,” Olivia DeHavilland’s choice to reject the handsome, sensitive Montgomery Clift, seemed much more definite and brave. But it was also clear in her decision that she was shutting herself off from the world.
Whatever the outcome, “Rich Girl” makes for an entertaining evening with a top-notch cast. The play continues through April 7 at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. For tickets, call 732-246-7717 or visit GPSonline.org.