At my college, widely known in the day as an institution for boys poor but ambitious, there was a saying heavy with half-baked cynicism that seemed to us worldly and cool: “It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich girl.”
A few classmates may have taken the idea seriously but most of us, recognizing an oversimplification even then, chuckled and moved on toward whatever chance had in store.
Still, the concept resonates. Is love that controllable? Is wealth that important? Is truth even possible in such a match?
The plot’s most poignant character is the girl, the rich girl. (A poor girl/rich boy story becomes a fairy tale.) She must decide if the object of desire is herself or her wealth. The boy faces questions of honor; her parents must deal with paranoia-flavored pride. And all must face certain practical realities like death and taxes.
For Rich Girl, a new play by Victoria Stewart now at the Old Globe Theatre, the story is set in the sleek halls of Manhattan media power.
Eve, a formidable television financial guru, is trying to make something of her only daughter Claudine, a sweet but hopeless klutz unready to leave her comfortable status of intern at her mother’s charitable foundation. Unready, that is, until she re-meets Henry, a prep-school classmate (Andover) who’s pitching his fledgling theatre company for a foundation grant.
Though he can’t qualify for the grant he gets the girl, as they fall enthusiastically into love heading for an immediate marriage. But Eve, who smells a rat similar to the one who deserted her, pregnant and uneducated, all those years ago, will have none of it. Her private eye finds Henry’s maxed-out credit cards, his bankrupt and estranged father, his massive school loans and even headshots of the leggy blondes he’s been dating. So Eve begins a campaign as ruthless as the financial disciplines she pushes on television.
Despite the jaunty flow of the banter, this is a cold play, free with the heavy stuff like changed wills and breast cancer, shrill with declarations of absolute intent. The characters are cartoons of stereotypes – the stern, self-made parent; the sheltered maiden; the passionate, starving artist; the efficient, empathic confidant – who state positions rather than converse. As the plot stomps along, crushing any stray nuance, it becomes obvious that the goal is effect rather than insight.
Stewart is a resourceful dramatist with an easy control of her art. A play of this sort 50 years ago would have had a cast of at least 10 actors. She does fine with four. Her casual name-brand-dropping is comfortably useful and her assumed attitudes are, within the conventions of such work, precise. The feminist nudges, though obvious, are not inappropriate. What’s missing is the complexity of context. A surprise bit of unforeseen humanity.
Meg Gibson knows flinty, driven women and their style, obviously, because her Eve is a Battlestar Galactica of the type. I’ve seen such on television only in glimpses because my remote works well.
But Claudine I know from countless adorable cuties in stories of every sort. She drops the silverware, spills the drink and threatens the Ming vase maybe to excess but Lauren Blumenfeld has excellent control of the character’s enormous eyes, lanky frame and pigeon toes and no obvious point goes unmade.
If JD Taylor isn’t quite the hunk suggested endlessly by the dialogue, he is an intense male presence, aquiver with purpose and alive to possibility, too near perfect to be true, perhaps.
And Carolyn Michelle Smith, as Eve’s longtime, live-in assistant, provides the humanity as an open, admiring and nurturing co-conspirator for each of the others in turn, a juggling act that Smith handles with casual charm.
In fact charm is more present in this show than might be expected from the play’s bitter outline and that may well be the work of James Vasquez, who has staged the piece with abundant strut.
Wilson Chin’s polished set design makes sense out of locales both general and specific, aided hugely by the superb, hard-edged lighting of Amanda Zieve. Lindsay Jones has provided ideal atmospheric music and the costumes, by Shirley Pierson, can be called both bold and disciplined, sometimes over the top and occasionally under the bottom.
So, even in these sophisticated days, the question of rich girls remains open. Don’t expect any solutions from this play.
Continues in the White Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays; at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; and at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through June 21, 2015.