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Regional Reviews: Boston

Old Money
Commonwealth Shakespeare Company
Review by Nancy Grossman

Also see Josh's review of Skeleton Crew and Sarah's review of Ripe Frenzy


Veronica Anastasio Wiseman, Jordan Clark, Josephine Moshiri Elwood, Amanda Collins,
Eliott Purcell, Will Lyman, Jeremiah Kissel,
and Ed Hoopman

Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva
If Wendy Wasserstein were still alive in 2018, she might be both pleasantly surprised and horrified by the prescience she displayed in her 2000 comedy of manners, Old Money, in which the robber barons of the late 19th century give way to the arbitragers, celebrities and hangers-on of the late 20th century. In the first quarter of our new century, the acquisition of wealth and fame, and the worship of those who possess both, have usurped nearly all other values as the holy grail of American society, to the point where a braggadocious charlatan has shifted his fortune and television celebrity into the political arena, parlaying it into his election as President of the United States.

Even a master satirist such as Wasserstein would have to admit that you can't make this stuff up and, perhaps, turn her talents to another art form. Possibly, the overarching authenticity of the wealthy players in Old Money is just too much to bear in light of the recent historic tax cut, the "greed is good" mentality of our majority party, and the notion that poverty is a choice. While those factors may give the play resonance, they contribute to a seat-squirming experience for me, as the rich and powerful subscribe to the philosophy that money can buy happiness and revel in their privilege, while the artists, youth and servants struggle for a foothold.

As much as it is possible to separate the production from the play, my assessment of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company effort is to give it high marks. Karen MacDonald directs a stellar cast of eight actors, each of whom plays dual roles, and keeps the focus on the way that each character is affected by money in their life. Set in a Fifth Avenue mansion in New York City, Jon Savage's scenic design successfully brings the house to life, and costumes by Charles Schoonmaker bridge the years between the two time periods of the story. Brian Lilienthal makes subtle lighting changes and sound designer David Remedios underscores with appropriate music to differentiate which era is being portrayed. Simple choreography by Amy Spencer enlivens the party scenes, and props artisan Sally Tomasetti has gathered an evocative collection.

Will Lyman anchors the cast as Tobias Vivian Pfeiffer III (in 2000), the grandson of the original owner of the mansion, and as Schuyler Lynch (in the early 1900s), the architect who designed the house. As the former, he is in failing health and wants to see his childhood home one last time. Much of the action seems to occur in his mind, and Lyman masterfully time travels, often conveying the confusion that suggests. He shares some wonderfully tender moments with Veronica Anastasio Wiseman (Saulina Webb/Sally Webster), including dancing a dainty gavotte, and connects well with the younger members of the troupe, Eliott Purcell (Ovid Walpole Bernstein/Tobias Vivian Pfeiffer Jr.) and Josephine Moshiri Elwood (Caroline Nercessian/Mary Gallagher).

Purcell is strong as the one who must break the fourth wall and narrate some of the exposition to the audience. Those portions of the script tend to be didactic, but Purcell infuses them with his personality. For her two parts, Elwood ranges between a feisty, but respectful, Irish maid and a rebellious teen with suicidal tendencies. Among the high points of the show are the occasions when Elwood sings some of the period songs. Jeremiah Kissel (Jeffrey Bernstein/Arnold Strauss) and Ed Hoopman (Sid Nercessian/Tobias Vivian Pfeiffer) are dueling alpha dogs as the inhabitants of the mansion, centuries apart, and Amanda Collins (Flinty McGee/Florence DeRoot) and Jordan Clark (Penny Nercessian/Betina Brevoort) portray strong, accomplished women in both eras.

The plot is driven by the division between the haves and the have-nots, as well as the age-old battles of the sexes and between the generations. However, the shifts back and forth in time become more challenging to follow as the play unfolds, with characters from the modern day appearing at the party in the earlier time period and vice versa, blurring the boundary between the two. In the pecking order of Wasserstein plays, Old Money does not achieve the heights of the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning The Heidi Chronicles or The Sisters Rosensweig, but it is a rich story with the playwright's trademark social commentary, sadly proving that some things don't ever really change.

Old Money, through March 18, 2018, by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company at Babson College, Carling-Sorenson Theater, 231 Forest Street, Wellesley MA; Box Office 866-811-4111 or www.commshakes.org

Written by Wendy Wasserstein, Directed by Karen MacDonald; Jon Savage, Scenic Designer; Charles Schoonmaker, Costume Designer; Brian Lilienthal, Lighting Designer; David Remedios, Sound Designer; Sally Tomasetti, Props Artisan; Jenna Worden, Stage Manager; Amy Spencer, Choreography

Cast: Will Lyman, Jeremiah Kissel, Eliott Purcell, Amanda Collins, Veronica Anastasio Wiseman, Ed Hoopman, Jordan Clark, Josephine Moshiri Elwood


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