Sunday, March 31, 2013

theatre review RICH GIRL, George Street Playhouse, March 17

A new play based on a classic novel is something that rarely succeeds.  If you include the fact that the classic novel was already turned into an extremely famous and popular play then your chances of success would seem slim to none.  However I'm happy to report that Victoria Stewarts's new play Rich Girl which is based on the Henry James novel Washington Square, that was already turned into the classic play The Heiress, is an inventive new play that updates the story and plot of the novel to modern times in a successful fashion.  The play had its world premiere at the George Street Playhouse this month before moving to the Cleveland Playhouse next month.

Dee Hoty
Directed by Michael Bloom and with an excellent cast, Rich Girl tells the story of 26 year old Claudine, a "rich girl" who reconnects with the handsome starving artist Henry from her school days and falls head over heals in love with him.  Claudine's mother Eve is a Suze Orman type of financial guru/ tv celebrity, who has her doubts about Henry.  Is he just using Claudine to get to Eve's money?  Does he really love her?  Does he even find the plain Jane and somewhat klutzy Claudine attractive?  While these questions are ones we've heard before, Stewart has crafted a winning and inventive take on the James novel that includes fine honed dialogue that is not only realistic but meaningful as well.

Liz Larsen and Crystal Finn
The Henry James novel as well as The Heiress, told the story of a New York City doctor who questions the advances of a suitor for his daughter.  While both the novel and that play were more serious and melodramatic, Rich Girl is more of a romantic comedy with serious overtones.  And while I'm a huge fan of The Heiress, Stewart doesn't shy away from the romantic intrigue, plot twists and deceptions that were present in the previous novel and play and therefore the addition of comedy only heightens the more dramatic moments.

It is a story of women and men and the various ways that money screws up those relationships.  It is also extremely clever with the use of modern technology.  I not only liked how Stewart changed the over protective father figure of the James novel into a wealthy overprotective mother, and all the nuances that mother/daughter relationships bring with them, but how she also made the role of Eve into someone not only knowledgable about finances but a specialist on financial security, especially for women.  I also really liked how Stewart changed the part of the Aunt into Eve's assistant Maggie, who also appears to be Eve's only close friend as well as a confident of Claudine.  By making the part of the aunt into someone who isn't a blood relation, but is still treated like a family member, it adds a whole other dimension of relationship analysis into the mix as that character is now someone who is actually getting paid to be there.

Crystal Finn and Tony Roach
The cast couldn't be better.  Dee Hoty and Liz Larsen are the two seasoned professionals here, both with numerous Broadway credits and several Tony nominations between them.  Hoty is Eve and Larsen is Maggie.  Hoty has no problem in getting across the serious nature of her concerns, and while she is very cold and calculated as Eve, we also know that she is only that way due to her being a victim of her own teachings and the fear that someone can easily come along and take away her hard earned money.  Larsen gets most of the jokes in the play, and expertly delivers them.  She also has no problem getting across the serious nature of the play as well.  Crystal Finn is Claudine and perfectly plays the klutzy young girl who grows into a self sufficient young woman.  Tony Roach is Henry and easily wins us over just like he did with Claudine.

Creative elements are sensational with an elaborate set design by Wilson Chin for Eve's expensive Manhattan apartment and costumes by Jennifer Caprio that couldn't be more clear in portraying the characters.  I especially liked the wig designs that changed throughout the show to accurately show the passing of time.

Rich Girl is a play not to be missed.

Rich Girl runs through April 7th at the George Street before moving to Cleveland for a run from April 19th to May 19th.

George Street Playhouse Website

Cleveland Playhouse Website

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