Just as there are horses for courses, as they say in the racing game, there are actors for roles in the theatre game and Lauren Blumenfeld is the actor for the title role in The Old Globe’s West Coast Premiere of “Rich Girl” hands down.
Henry James’ novel Washington Square, which became the stage and screen classic The Heiress, has now been smartly and sharply updated by Victoria Stewart into a modern-day, clever exploration of the mother-daughter, love-hate relationship, set against the backdrop of money – lots of it – dishing up a tasty feast for the actors called “Rich Girl” (and no, we’re not talking Paris Hilton).
Solidly directly by James Vasquez, The Old Globe’s Sheila and Harvey White stage features four talented actors playing four interesting characters that draw one into the vortex of a play you thought you knew only to find yourself forgetting all about that dark old drama from the past.
Yes, Olivia de Havilland was marvelous in the 1949 movie with a story suited to the culture of its time. But we’re now ensconced, for better or worse, in the 21st century and the events that capture the imagination of today’s audiences often reflect comedy and drama with a dash of the absurd all tossed into the mix in a single production. It’s a way of keeping audiences on their toes; waiting to find out happens at the end.
“Rich Girl” features a sensational Lauren Blumenfeld as Claudine, the geeky, gangly, sweet and introverted daughter of mega star TV personality Eve Walker (Meg Gibson). Eve, the doyen of a successful wealth and management foundation has it all, except time for her underachieving daughter Claudine who is withering in the shadow of her famous mother. Rather than interact with her daughter Eve assigns that chore to her personal assistant Maggie (Carolyn Michelle Smith) a savvy and empathetic friend of Claudine. Maggie acts as a surrogate therapist and business mentor to Claudine who is struggling to become a person of her own while working in the family business. Clever Maggie continues to enjoy the personal relationship she has with both Eve and Claudine, despite Eve’s maddening, at times, bad behavior concerning Claudine.
Into this triangle of women in business seeking more out of life comes JD Taylor as Henry, a young, theatrical director in search of funds for a project he has been trying to produce. Red flags immediately spring up around Eve, but not for Claudine who is overwhelmed by all of Henry’s attention to her. Maggie is waiting to see what develops between Claudine and the handsome hunk Henry before she makes up her mind as to what’s really happening. But Eve is already onto the opportunistic pseudo-suitor Henry
Playwright Stewart’s adroit retelling of the James novel concerning the conundrum of whether love and money can ever coexist, especially when it comes to the romantic love choices made by children of wealthy parents, is particularly compelling in “Rich Girl”. Does the phrase “I’m only doing this for your own good”, sound familiar? Bette Davis, as Charlotte Vail heard it from her wealthy mother Gladys Cooper in ‘Now Voyager’. When Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce utters the phrase, to Anne Blythe there were real dire consequences at stake. Mother love can be a two-edge sword.
The talented cast are a delight to watch as each actor gets his or her moment to shine, however, the bulb that burns brightest is turned on by the performance of Lauren Blumenfeld who grows from an introverted twenty something into a confident adult businesswoman. It’s an astonishing transformational arc to watch unfold on a stage. Her focus and in-the-moment performance is riveting in its nuances especially in the chilling denouement at the end. It’s great stuff.
Director James Vasquez has staged his production in the round with nice pacing and good traffic management. However, if I had to be picky about this splendid production it would be to ask the actors not to drop their voices when they’re just two or three words from the end of their speeches. I realize we’re no more than twenty feet from the stage, but we are watching a performance in the round. Someone at some time will have their back to the audience. We don’t want the audience to miss any of those dialogue gems or those emotional moments.
In the technical department: Scenic Designer Wilson Chin’s circular stage area is sleek, spare, and functional. It even allows for Meg Gibson to interact with the audience when she is on her TV program. Amanda Zieve’s lighting design complements the costumes of Shirley Pierson, along with original music and sound design by Lindsay Jones, and the video design of Mark Holmes and Paul Peterson.
“Rich Girl” performs on The Old Globe Sheryl and Harvey White Stage and runs through June 21, 2015.