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Old Acquaintance: The Perfect Blendship?

If John van Druten's 1940 drawing room comedy, Old Acquaintance, isn't exactly packed with the clever conversation and witty exchanges you might expect from the tale of a friendly rivalry between two of Manhattan's fabulous literary types – a smiledy might be a more accurate label – the Roundabout's smart and stylish production under director Michael Wilson does a darn good job of making up for any shortcomings in the text.

It's a familiar story of mutual admiration, affection and jealousy shared by an under-producing critics' darling novelist (Margaret Colin) and a writing machine who can crank out trashy best-sellers in less time than it takes to draw up contracts for the film rights (Harriet Harris).

As the bohemian Kit Markham, Colin anchors the production with an underplayed performance that softly glows with cerebral warmth and attractiveness.  Wilson surrounds her with a broadly-playing company inhabiting their roles as if the characters leaped out of a New Yorker cartoon of the period, emphasising Kit's low-key status in the popular mind.

Leading the charge into over-the-top is Harris in the flashier role of Milly Drake, all lovingly brash and pushy.  If she seems to be trying too hard for laughs at some points, more often she squeezes every bit of legitimate comedy that can be juiced out of her role.  Costume designer David C. Woolard scores some solid chuckles by contrasting the attractively simple outfits worn by Kit with Milly's gaudy frocks.  (No amount of money can buy good taste, it seems.)  Likewise, set designer Alexander Dodge places Kit in crowded downtown quarters dominated by books, paintings and a glorious picture window while Milly's rented luxury apartment lies at the foot of an ostentatious staircase and is decorated in Pepto-Bismol pink and white.

The latest source of friction between the two writers of fiction (please forgive me) is that the divorced Milly's 19-year-old daughter, Deirdre (Diane Davis with a nicely sophomoric sense of sophistication), idolises Kit and wishes to make her temporary stay in her role model's apartment more permanent.  This is a bit inconvenient for Kit, as she's been enjoying an affair with publisher Rudd Kendall (Corey Stoll, with charming dash) who is ten years her junior; scandalous at the time.  Not as scandalous is that Milly's ex, Preston (a dry Stephen Bogardus in one short scene), intends to remarry with a woman ten years younger.

Not content with having a more successful career than Kit, Milly tries to swing life more favourably in her own direction at everyone else's expense over the course of  several months leading up to the third act's soft winter snowfall.  There's no question that in a play like this the contrivances will conclude with a nice and pat ending, but Old Acquaintance isn't really about the plot.  The story is merely a vehicle for the give and take between Kit and Milly, played with believable sisterly chemistry by Colin and Harris.  If their repartee isn't quite delicious, this fine production is pleasantly tasty.

Photos by Joan Marcus:  Top: Corey Stoll and Margaret Colin

Center:  Diane Davis

Bottom:  Harriet Harris and Stephen Bogardus

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From This Author Michael Dale