Regional Reviews: San Diego
Also see Bill's review of Arms and the Man
James' :Washington Square" focused on a rich tycoon's attempts to protect his daughter Catherine from suitors who might be after her inheritance. Catherine, plain and not all that bright, meets an attractive man at a party. The man courts her, but, as he has run through a small inheritance of his own, her father disapproves of him. The two become engaged, and the father threatens to cut off Catherine from her inheritance. He's expecting Catherine's fiancé to break off the engagement, but instead the wedding is postponed. To separate the pair, the father takes Catherine on a year-long grand tour of Europe. When they return, Catherine tells her fiancé that her father will never relent, and the fiancé breaks off the engagement because, he says, he does not wish to bring harm to Catherine. Catherine, embittered by the whole affair, retreats into a life of spinster-hood.
Ms. Stewart's Rich Girl twists the situation by making the tycoon parent a Suze Orman-style television financial guru named Eve (Meg Gibson). Her daughter Claudine (Lauren Blumenfeld) works for the charitable foundation her mother has established. She's not paid a lot of money, and she lives with her mother in a swanky New York penthouse (Wilson Chin did the scenic design). I say "and she lives" rather than "but she lives" because it seems clear that Eve is sheltering Claudia in more ways than one.
Claudine meets Henry (JD Taylor), a Brooklyn-based director and actor who's been struggling to launch a theatre company with grant funds, money from a wealthy patron, and maxed-out credit cards. Henry is handsome and charming, and Eve is immediately suspicious. Claudine, however, is swept off her feet and is quick to accept, over her mother's strenuous objections, Henry's marriage proposal. Eve, for her part, immediately demands that Claudia accompany her on an extended trip to South Africa, leaving Maggie (Carolyn Michelle Smith), the foundation's executive assistant, to manage both the foundation and the penthouse.
So far, the plot of Rich Girl has paralleled that of Washington Square, and those of us who have seen many such similar set-ups are waiting for Claudine to stand up to her mother and embrace Henry, who will turn out to be an excellent match for her. Of course, that's not what happens in "Washington Square," and it's not what happens in Rich Girl, either. A lot of what does happen rests with the mother-daughter dynamic that Ms. Stewart has created, a dynamic that is necessarily different from the father-daughter dynamic of James' novel. Your enjoyment of the story once it departs from the novel will probably depend on your identification with this mother-daughter dynamic, and, perhaps with your level of agreement with the sort of advice Eve has been giving her viewers (Mark Holmes and Paul Peterson did the excellent video design).
Whether the plot development delights or annoys you, some additional thought will reveal that all of the characters are making complex choices. A standard romantic comedy would never have complicated things in the ways that Ms. Stewart does, and even though I was on the "annoy" side I will give her credit for telling her tale with such complexity.
Credit is also due to director James Vasquez's production, which moves briskly, explodes the dialogue in sharp and interesting ways, and gives each of his four actors the means by which they can garner audience identification. He's aided by high quality work from Shirley Pierson (costume design), Amanda Zieve (lighting design), and some weird and wonderful original music and sound design by Lindsay Jones. The Globe gets points from me for giving Mr. Vasquez, a stalwart director of musicals on local stages, a chance to helm not only a play, but one that's as tricky as this one is to get right. And, Mr. Vasquez, the cast, and the creative team do get it right.
The Old Globe presents Rich Girl, by Victoria Stewart, through June 21, 2015, at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre on the Old Globe campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets, starting at $29, may be purchased by calling (619) 23-GLOBE or by visiting www.oldglobe.org. The performance schedule is Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm, and matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm.
The cast includes Carolyn Michelle Smith as Maggie, Lauren Blumenfeld as Claudine, JD Taylor as Henry, and Meg Gibson as Eve. The creative team includes James Vasquez (Director), Wilson Chin (Scenic Design), Shirley Pierson (Costume Design), Amanda Zieve (Lighting Design), Lindsay Jones (Original Music and Sound Design), Mark Holmes (Video Design), and Paul Peterson (Video Design).