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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the American Airlines Theatre

By Jessica Branch

  Harriet Harris, left, and Margaret Colin/Ph:Sara Krulwich

Was it the media ubiquity of "frenemies"- think Paris and Nicole-that made the Roundabout revive Old Acquaintance ? If so, the theater company should have taken a tip from the Simple Lifers: Frenemyships are so persistent, in life as in literature, not because they're intellectually compelling or verbally stimulating, but because they are dramatic.

Billed as a comedy, John van Druten's uneven World War II-era play about two very different women writers and their enduring friendship is actually more convincing as a girl-power melodrama. Just take the setup: Worldly spinster-authoress Kit ( the elegant, low-key Margaret Colin) inhabits an enchanted Greenwich Village existence ( and a fabulous, book-filled apartment), painfully producing a critically- acclaimed volume every four years or so. After all, she's busy entertaining the latest in her series of lovers-during the play, the decade-younger Rudd ( Corey Stoll)- and sheltering hard-partying teen Deidre ( the shrilly annoying Diane Davis) from her controlling suburban mother- who also happens to be Kit's oldest friend. Milly( Harriet Harris) is a petulant, controlling matron, jealous of Kit despite her own far more lucrative and prolific production of potboilers. But even the near-perfect Kit has skeletons in her glamorous closet: She doesn't want the devoted, impressionable Deidre to find out about her current affair-or her mother to discover a past one.

It may have flashes of wit and funny moments, but Old Acquaintance is the stuff of melodrama rather than comedy and the Roundabout's production works as neither. Haphazard direction from Michael Wilson leaves the actors to their own disparate devices: Colin plays her boho but noble heroine with a matter-of-fact realism that begs a stronger script Davis seems to be aiming for a perky period ingenue out of P.G. Wodehouse and Harris delivers an archly over-the-top, hysterical performance that exceeds even Milly's own self-dramatizing-but that can't, on its own, transform the play into the same go-for-the- jugular campiness.

Of the three approaches, Harris's seems best suited to make the material work, with its mix of mischief and melodrama. Without that kind of heat and hyperbole, the plot doesn't hold water-or an audience's interest. No other genre could get us to suspend disbelief as love at first sight, emotional martyrdom, and seething resentments and rivalries run rampant. And what the men behind this play don't seem to realize is that women nurture these friendships, not just for the ( sometimes problematic) support and comfort they provide, but for the fact that they instill drama into everyday life- and only drama can accurately describe them. Alas, even sisterhood is powerless in the face of flatfooted direction.


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