Accent On Youth
A dry martini would be an appropriate drink to consume while watching Accent On Youth, the new play in performances at the Samuel J. Friedman theater. The crisp, cool, tart flavor would be a suitable accompaniment to the amiable, aimless production of Samson Raphaelson’s play, which can be described using the same adjetives.
The 1934 comedy centers around Stephen Gaye, a self-centered playwright with 19 successful comedies under his belt who is now attempting to write a tragedy. Inspired by his secretary Linda’s (Mary Catherine Garrison) confession of love for him, his play is performed with Linda in the lead and the two become lovers. Complications ensue, scotches are drunk, and a butler wrestles an actor, while questions of age and love are asked and not completely answered.
Although he is the protagonist of the play, Gaye is certainly not a hero, but not quite an anti-hero either. Living in a posh apartment, dressed in fine clothing and served by a British butler, he is successful and lazy, all too aware of his own intellect and success – and age. He wants to leave playwriting, but as hard as he tries – and two ripe opportunities present themselves – but just as he was about to step away, he got an idea for a play and went back to work. This cost him a relationship with a young woman (Rosie Benton) who was ready to run away to Finland with the writer, even though he had abandoned her once before.
Following Linda’s abrupt confession of love, Gaye rewriters his play to be about her and casts her in the lead. The two begin a relationship, but when Linda’s love-struck co-star professes his feelings for her, Gaye attempts to back away so Linda can be with someone closer to her own age.
Probing questions of love and happiness permeate this play, but despite its cast of skilled and dedicated actors, the story never feels full, nor does it register as an actual conflict. While Gaye is charming and witty, and it is undoubtedly amusing to watch him, he is not a man this critic would choose to interact with. While Garrison’s Linda is appealing and sympathetic as a mousy, love-struck secretary, her transformation into a glamorous starlet is abrupt and unappealing, and her performance is unconvincing. The same can be said of Rosie Benton, who plays Stephen’s other potential lover. She is simply too over-the-top, and her grand sweeps though his parlor are amusing at first, they quickly tire and becoming annoying rather than amusing.
The remainder of the supporting cast is perfectly solid, with Byron Jennings in an amusing performance as an elderly actor whose passion for the stage is revived by Gaye’s play. Charles Kimbrough steals the show as Flagdell, Gaye’s refined British butler possesses a hidden passion for wrestling. It is when the men are onstage, without any women present, that they appear the most relaxed and at ease and the comedy truly sparks.
While the message of the play seems to be that Linda and Gaye really do love each other and belong together, it is more apparent to everyone except Linda that Gaye is not truly capable of loving anyone. And their love, or whatever it is, lacks conviction and passion, very much like the rest of the play, which simply feels too dated to be convincing in a society where advertisements for the reality show “The Cougar” adorn subway stops and trophy wives are as common as the towncars they ride in. The production is entertaining, much of it thanks to Pierce’s dry wit and effortless comedic timing, and it is very attractive, thanks to the ornate setting of Gaye’s study, but very little lies beneath the ornate surface.
A dry martini is enjoyable sparingly, but this critic prefers something that packs a stronger punch.