Story: Mrs. Randall is considered ‘comfortable’ by friends and associates in her New York City circle, circa 1908. That’s actually a step beneath the wealthy status enjoyed by her British relatives across The Pond, but nonetheless they entreat her to help in a very special way. It seems that Rhoda Meldrum, an upbeat, intelligent young lady politely termed “interesting” to avoid referencing her plain looks, is fast approaching 30 years of age with prospects for a husband nowhere in sight.
To solve that crisis, Mrs. Randall welcomes Rhoda into her home in the hope of finding her a suitable mate, Yankee style. Fitting that bill is the obligation of Neil Harding, a handsome bachelor and very good friend to Mrs. Randall’s eldest son Jimmy and the object of pining affection of Jimmy’s younger sister Daphne.
Jimmy himself is about to become engaged to an attractive actress named Calla Longstreth, much to the dismay of his mother, who doesn’t approve of the wayward lifestyle of performers. She’d rather that Jimmy find a good-looking version of Rhoda, his lifelong friend and sharer of his secret thoughts. Between Jimmy’s engagement party, hooking up homely Rhoda with an eligible man and corralling the free-spirited inclinations of youngest son Michael, Mrs. Randall has her hands filled with self-appointed tasks.
Highlights: Program notes proclaim that Act Inc. does “extensive research to unearth plays of real quality which have been undeservedly forgotten.” A shout-out therefore is in order to Act Inc.’s readers for so astutely rescuing this tidy little gem from the scrap-heap of time. It was written in 1943 by Lloyd Morris and John Van Druten, the latter better known for I Am a Camera, his dramatic adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories which in turn became the basis for the famous Kander & Ebb musical, Cabaret.
The Damask Cheek is a tidy, gentle, three-act parlor-room comedy that is easy on the eyes and ears with its polite dialogue and erudite characters, virtues that focused director Emily Robinson and her cast bring to the fore in two-and-a-half breezy hours. Aided by a simple but quaint scenic design peppered with props judiciously selected by Liz Hopefl and softly lit by Michael Sullivan, it’s a silly but charming type of tale that the British-born Van Druten could craft with polish.
Wig designer Lori Renna’s efforts are evident adorning the ladies’ various characters, while Jane Sullivan dresses everyone in the fashionable wardrobes of the times, apart from Nora the maid’s domestic attire. Zoe Sullivan provides a pleasant sound design, while Mike Monsey’s fight choreography accentuates a surprising and arresting moment of action between two of the players.
Acting is uniformly delightful, from Liz Hopefl’s humorous bit as Mrs. Randall’s dutiful and subordinate friend Miss Pinner and Diane Peterson’s role as the respectful Nora to Paul Edwards’ winning portrayal of Jimmy. Edwards keeps Jimmy from sounding too pompous when describing the type of woman he prefers by showing the character’s affection for the women who shape his life.
One of those ladies, Calla, is presented in a finely attenuated performance by Zoe Sullivan, who brings out Calla’s calculating personality as well as her charms. As Rhoda, Rachel Visocan’s attractive looks are somewhat camouflaged by a pair of spinsterish spectacles and a garish wig while she carefully delineates the beauty and depth of her character’s quiet determination, nicely anchoring the entire presentation.
There’s a fine effort by Paul Cooper as the dashing Harding, bringing subtlety and likability to a character who isn’t as shallow and scheming as at first he might appear. Tasha Zebrowski and Zeke Bocklage complete the cast as the appealing younger children of Mrs. Randall, the former amusing as the love-struck Daphne and the latter as a lad who enjoys disobeying his mother with a forbidden visit to a naughty theater performance. Savvy veteran Eleanor Mullin brings her usual polish to the role of the stern but loving Mrs. Randall, who is quite easy to get along with so long as one does everything she says.
The Damask Cheek, which gets its title from Shakespeare, is a pleasant and appealing little play that nevertheless likely soon will return to its hidden nook far from the madding crowd.
Play: The Damask Cheek
Group: Act Inc.
Venue: Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre, Big Bend at Wydown
Dates: June 21, 22, 23, 24
Tickets: $20; contact 725-9108 or www.actinc.biz
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb