If you could talk the extremely gifted comic actor, David Hyde Pierce into starring in a 1930’s period piece where he could strut his ability to land every bon mot he was written and to be suave and debonair to boot why oh why oh why oh would you ever choose the mild mannered, lukewarm Accent on Youth written by Samson Raphaelson?
Unfortunately that is exactly what the Manhattan Theatre Club has done in producing this relic which has recently opened at the old Biltmore Theatre – which is now named The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
You can almost smell the moth balls. Not that it isn’t amusing. It is. But it’s dated. Dated in a charming way. The comedy and plot simmer along without ever boiling over into riotous laughter. All is held in check when all hell should break loose as our playwright’s two amours (Genevieve Lang – Rosie Benton and Linda Brown – Mary Catherine Garrison) both bring him bouquets to celebrate a mutual meaningful day in their lives. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Author of 19 successful comedies, Steven (David Hyde Pierce) Gaye’s newest opus is to be a serious play – Old Love – dealing with a man in his sixties falling for a much younger woman. He quickly discovers that his own life will inspire his writing when his much younger secretary, Linda Brown, declares her love for him and vows to help him overcome his writer’s block just as he is about to go off to Finland with glamorous actress Genevieve Lang. End of a very quick Act I.
Complications ensue. As mousey secretary not only becomes Gaye’s lover but star of his newest hit play – Old Love – where the young leading man (Dickie Reynolds) a dapper and energetic David Furr falls head over heels in love with the now transformed Linda Brown, well you can see where this is going…
Unfortunately in the pivotal role of Linda Brown, Ms. Garrison doesn’t have enough style to pull off her ugly duckling into a swan transformation completely. She comes across as both sweet and shallow. We feel little sympathy for her with the dilemmas that she is continually faced with. Of her own doing I might add.
Nicely directed by Daniel Sullivan, on a posh wood paneled set by John Lee Beatty and beautifully costumed by Jane Greenwood the other actors do justice to their roles. As a vain actress (Miss Darling) Lisa Banes is just right in her if you blink you’ll miss her performance. Gaye’s manservant (Flogdell) is a very amusing Charles Kimbrough who has an amusing Indian Wrestling Match with the older leading man Frank Galloway (Byron Jennings) who plays a most amusing drunk. Highlight of the evening.
There are some very amusing one-liners and Mr. Pierce dictates a letter with punctuation reminiscent of Victor Borge’s famous bit without the sound effects however. That might have livened things up a bit. Accent on Youth chugs amusingly along – eliciting smiles and laughs but it never really goes past amusing – a word that appears most often in this review. A word that I can’t seem to get past with describing this production.