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What were they thinking? Despite stocking its two Off-Broadway spaces with quality productions this season (most notably Pulitzer Prize winner Ruined), Manhattan Theatre Club has had a devil of a time programming its five-year-old Broadway theatre. Changing the name from the Biltmore to the Friedman last fall hasn't helped the organization find a mission or an artistic identity for it.
Indeed it's hard to imagine an associated artistic type reading Samson Raphaelson's 75-year-old comedy and thinking that this was a play that had something to say to 21st-century audiences. Although there are occasional laugh-worthy moments in this rather shallow look at May-December romance, Raphaelson aims for Noel Coward's airy and effortless wit, but it's a chore to give his labored characters your full attention for two hours. This is one chestnut that, like much of Raphaelson's oeuvre save The Jazz Singer, needn't be dug up again.
Even the refined presence of David Hyde Pierce and the reliable hand of director Daniel Sullivan aren't enough to enliven this story of a middle-aged playwright who performs an Eliza Doolittle-style makeover on his young secretary (played by Mary Catherine Garrison) and turns her into his leading lady as well as his fiancée. Their inability to decide whether their age difference should prevent them from loving and committing to each other barely registers on the emotional Richter scale, and Pierce and Garrison interact at such a low amplitude that it's hard to care if they do.
The only actor who delivers a noteworthy performance is Charles Kimbrough, playing an aging butler who finds a last chance at love with a young domestic. Perhaps because it's long on laughs and short on ennui, unlike much of the faint blathering that's supposed to pass for fun.
By Diane Snyder
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Lisa Banes, Rosie Benton, David Furr, Mary Catherine Garrison, Byron Jennings, Charles Kimbrough, David Hyde Pierce
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street
New York, NY 10036