[New York Peasant by Wilfrid: June 29, 2009]
To the Manhattan Theater Club after a couple of stiff highballs at Sardi's for Samson Raphaelson's Accent on Youth. Truth is, to paraphrase Julian Maclaren-Ross, I knew f-- all about it.
Two reasons for buying a ticket - the offer of a generous discount, and curiosity about David Hyde Pierce's comic skills following his Tony for Curtains, which I didn't see. Opening my playbill, I discovered that this was a revival of a 1934 comedy, and that the star of Debbie Does Dallas was in it.
Okay, one thing at a time. A revival 1934 behind-the-scenes theatrical comedy (not a well known play either - Raphaelson was a successful screenwriter); I wondered why. Simply a vehicle, perhaps, for Pierce, who is permitted to hold center-stage throughout as a preening, batchelor playwright - Henry Higgins without the academic qualifications. Although Pierce himself was born in New York, and the character in the play would seem to be American, a smooth George Sanders-ish English accent is deployed throughout, and there is much wearing of pin-stripe suits and smoking jackets.
Now, as to Debbie. Debbie Does Dallas was an off Broadway success some years ago; a funny and really quite raunchy pastiche of a porn movie featuring a cheerleader and some Cowboys. I remember it well, not least for Mary Catherine Garrison's Debbie. Ms Garrison has played other roles since, of course, and I've even seen her - as Squeaky Fromme, for example, in Assassins
- but in some un-aired little corner of my mind she will always be Debbie.
In this play, actually, she's Eliza Doolittle to Pierce's Higging; or rather, the quiet, efficient secretary to the ebullient playwright who quickly, albeit metaphorically, reveals a breast throbbing with passion, not to mention a gift for the stage. The possibility of a relationship between an older man and younger woman is the almost serious heart of this show; Pierce's character is writing a play on the subject, and suddenly finds material in his own life. There is much that is amusing; Pierce is a polished comedian, and Byron Jennings has an extraordinarily good old-fashioned, top-hatted drunk scene. I laughed plenty.
Best not to focus on the characters and plot, though. One could just about swallow the emergence of Garrison's butterfly from its chrysallis, but her subsequent inconstancy is hard to square with initial romantic professions. As for the matinee idol very well played by David Furr, either he's a handsome Broadway Baby with sawdust between his ears, or he's a blue-blooded Princeton man; unfortunately, Raphaelson writes him as both.
Thin material beyond the witty lines, then, but by no means a wasted evening. Especially with a discount.
Website information (and no, that leg is not in the play) here.