Accent on Youth

  • Date:
    April 1, 2009
    Review by:
    Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus.

    "Old age is not for sissies," said Bette Davis, and while 51 can hardly be considered old, Steven Gaye sees himself on the way to decrepitude. Steven is a charming and successful playwright in Samson Raphaelson's 1934 drawing-room comedy, "Accent on Youth," who has fallen in love with a woman half his age and sees the reality of their future together.

    Set in a to-die-for New York City penthouse apartment with bookcases filled with leather-bound books, and the requisite bar, not to mention butler, actors meet to go through a reading of Steven's new play "Old Love," based on the last desperate chances of an older man finding true romance in the arms of a younger woman. The older actors worry that they will be perceived as foolish -- those were the pre-trophy wife days -- but Steven assures them that as he himself is "smelling 60," this last attempt at a leap of youth is one to which all can relate.

    Little did Steven know, when he wrote the play, however, that it would become both prophetic and autobiographical. All he's dealing with, at the moment, is getting Genevieve Lang to play the role of the young woman. Having been her lover four years earlier, and having stood her up on what was to be a romantic ocean voyage to Europe, he naturally expected her to still be angry with him. But when she shows up, they fall back into each other's arms and plan to run away yet again.

    "I'm giving up writing and sailing to Finland with Miss Lang" he tells his loyal butler, Flogdell. After directing Flogdell to pack his things, he discharges his meek secretary, Linda Brown, with a perfunctory goodbye. Oblivious to the real feelings she has hidden from him for four years, he is shocked by her sudden outburst that she is madly in love with him. Distracted and inspired by Linda�s painful pronouncements, he rewrites of some scenes of "Old Love" and Linda becomes his new leading lady in every sense.

    But what to do about the younger, good-looking Dickie Reynolds, who is her co-star and who, it is written, must get the girl in the end? In a deja vu scene, tormented Dickie pronounces his love for Linda, and his own retirement from the theater because of it. What goes around comes around, and Steven writes him the perfect exit lines to get the girl knowing full well he may be writing himself out of the final scene.

    This little gem of tangled relationships based on a playwright's maneuvering of human emotions strikes chords in all areas. After all, it may be impossible to tell when actors' lines are real and unrehearsed and love is more than a well-staged scene. Ironically, the only older man who lucks out with a younger woman is Flogdell, being of sound mind and body, and not in the theater.

    David Hyde Pierce's Steven has dressing-gown glamour, a lithe graceful manner, and the kind of sex appeal usually found only in films of the thirties. Mary Catherine Garrison moves easily from dowdy to diva as Linda Brown. Both understand the romantic nuances of the period and their passion ignites as easily as the cigarettes in the gold cases on the tables.

    Charles Kimbrough is dashing as Flogdell with the right balance of humility and pride and Rosie Benton as the beautiful Genevieve Lang glides in and out of Steven�s life in the gorgeous gowns by Jane Greenwood.

    "Accent on Youth" revives a time gone by when gentility and glamour were part of romance. Yet with its remarkable cast and Daniel Sullivan's deft direction, the play moves as quickly as Twitter.

     

    "will suffice for an afternoon of diversion."
    Charles Isherwood
    New York Times

    "whips up so little laughter it should carry a "lite" label."
    Joe Dziemianowicz
    New York Daily News

    "Rarely have material, director and cast been as mismatched as they are in the leaden Manhattan Theatre Club production"
    Elisabeth Vincentelli
    New York Post

    "sparkling Broadway revival..." & "It�s the kind of cream puff -- lighthearted, wistful, with just enough wit to make the viewer feel smart but no more -- that we associate with Noel Coward or, among Americans, Philip Barry and precious few others."
    Jeremy Gerard
    Bloomberg

    "frothy but engaging comedy"
    Elysa Gardner
    USA Today

    "more than dutiful, but less than scintillating."
    Linda Winner
    NewsDay

    "it just creaks, groans, and lumbers its way across the stage"
    Erik Haagensen
    Back Stage

    "it�s amusing and charming, and effortlessly pushes our nostalgia buttons."
    Robert Feldberg
    The Record

    "an amiable, minor-league diversion."
    Michael Kuchwara
    Associated Press

    "there's not much substance beneath its mild charms"
    David Rooney
    Variety