Will a new audience fall for the septuagenarian Accent on Youth? Quite likely. First produced in 1934, this wry comedy by Samson Raphanelson, better known for The Jazz Singer, still retains more vigor and charm than many more modern shows-as well as a touch of wisdom.
As the play begins in the well-appointed New York apartment of playwright Steven Gaye (David Hyde Pierce), the hero realizes that his latest drama, about a May-December romance, isn't working and decides on the spur of the moment to leave that night for Finland with a much-younger old flame of his own (Rosie Benton). He's first stymied, then inspired when his efficient young secretary Linda (Mary Catherine Garrison) declares her love for him-which proves, in the next act, not to be unrequited. When the curtains rise again, it's months later, his play has been finished and produced with Linda in the lead, and the two are already discussing marriage. But then Linda's leading man (David Furr) - much younger and more eligible than Steven - reveals that he, too, is in love with Linda.
The elaborately plotted, fast-moving play has more than its share of clever lines and witty observations, and director Daniel Sullivan makes the action run smoothly and logically despite the odd central caesura. But what ultimately makes the comedy stick with you as well as sparkle is that, while it plays with cliches of young obsessions and old love (the name of Steven's play within the play), it never reduces its characters to the stereotypes inherited from Restoration comedy. Linda may be a besotted sweet young thing, but she's bright, discerning, and, as Garrison plays her, more sassily sophisticated than her age and baby-doll voice would suggest. As for Steven Gaye, he may be a quick-with-a-quip dandy of screwball comedy and a suggestible swain, but he's also a gentleman of a certain age really grappling with the ramifications of his romances. Hyde Pierce nails the artist's preoccupation with his craft-and how that obsession informs his real life. It's a captivating performance, bringing deeper undertones to the comedy's charm, and a highly capable cast helps. Most notably, Charles Kimbrough as a gentleman's gentleman and Benton as Steven's abandoned lover and leading lady both give stellar performances, proving that young and old alike can shine in this undersung but ageless charmer.