Charity for the rich


By Philip Barry
Directed by Yvonne Conybeare
The Gallery Players
199 14th St., Park Slope, Brooklyn (718/595-0547)
Equity showcase (closes Dec. 14)
Review by David Mackler

A play by Philip Barry can be mistaken for nothing else. Lots of dialog, characters who speak as if they're in a play, drawing rooms, repartee both witty and feeling. Rich people. And three acts.

So if Julia Seaton (Leigh Williams) and Johnny Case (Brian Letscher) don't meet on board a ship, well, Lake Placid is the next best thing. He doesn't know she's one of the Seatons of 5th Ave., but he doesn't let that deter him from his life plan -- work hard (like he's been doing since he's 10), and retire at 30, with enough money to live on. She doesn't agree, but she's in love, and she figures he'll come around. But he wants his life to be a Holiday, and he fully expects they'll be married soon after the New Year. And Julia's sister Linda (Inga R. Wilson), as much an odd duck in her way as Johnny is in his, wants to throw a New Year's celebration.

Sound familiar? It's a fairly generic plot, but it had the good fortune to be turned into a film in 1938, a staple on classic-movie stations because of its stars. If you're Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, you can make the lines sound like you just thought of the words as you say them. If you're not, a little more work is needed, but the words and plot are so professionally constructed that as long as the words are audible, you can float on them towards a quite enjoyable evening of theater. Director Yvonne Conybeare let the play be itself, and much of the acting in the Gallery Players' well-mounted production was in tune with Barry's esthetic, with some particularly bright shining lights.

Johnny and Linda are the heroes of the piece (what? you really thought Johnny and Julia would get hitched?) and because both are somewhat misfits in the milieu, they get the bulk of the audience's sympathy. There's a healthy dose left over for the dipsomaniac brother Ned (Andy Waldschmidt), who has the good grace to never get too sloppy, and the good sense to know he's caught, unhappily, in a golden web. Letscher had the stature, presence, and smile to make Johnny worthy of the sisters' affections, and he could very well have helped Ned back home from a bender many years ago. Wilson didn't really need the red wig to be outstanding, and some of her best acting was done when she just stood aside watching -- her Linda was falling in love with Johnny as he told his history and philosophy to the Seaton patriarch (David Crommett) -- but the fact she was unaware of it made her later resisting even more affecting. Waldschmidt's Ned was quietly heartbreaking, with Ned's little victories even more meaningful.

Harlan D. Penn's set filled out the wide stage admirably, and the transformation from drawing room to nursery was accomplished economically but with an abundance of detail. Costumes (by Sean Sullivan) were particularly good for the women, and both Wilson and Williams wore the period fashions with a commendable naturalness. Nick Francone's lighting was appropriately low-key for interiors, but the sun setting over the Central Park and West Side view out the 5th Ave. windows was a treat. It went unnoticed by the Seatons, but that's probably what happens when you see it every evening.

As a play, Holiday can be described much as Linda describes herself -- not very important, but pretty good entertainment. It's as much a fantasy now as it was then, but it's a pleasant fantasy though.

Also with Stacy L. Mayer, Wayne Temple, Richard Brundage, Ken Dray, Shawn Reese, Katherine Rocheleau, and Susan Atwood as a particularly funny example of the riche gauche.

  Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 David Mackler