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Daisy Mayme

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Watching George Kelly's 1926 comedy Daisy Mayme at the Pearl Theatre hits one message home: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Kelly's bright, often charming comedy offers a peek into the morals and issues of the day, but only the smallest of details suggest that this play takes place early in the 20th century instead of today.

There's still the constant battle over social propriety and what's right for the individual, there are still those hoping for a free ride from others, there are still those who say one thing to someone's face and turn around and say something else when they aren't looking, there are still those who see marriage as a business arrangement, and there are still those whose positive outlook on life and reliance on their own powers can take them wherever they want to go. (Of course, whether or not they're all to be found in one family exactly the way they are in Kelly's play is an open question.)

Still, every character in the play seems very real. There's Cliff Mettinger (Dominic Cuskern), who's so devoted years of his life to his job, his sister May (Samantha Soule), and his now-deceased mother, he's never thought of taking a wife for himself. There are the two busybody aunts, Laura and Olly, (Joanne Camp and Carol Schultz), as well as the young couple in love (Rachel Botchan and Sean McCall), the wacky neighbor (Robert Hock), and the free spirit (Robin Leslie Brown) who's blown into their life, and will most likely change everything forever.

Brown plays the title role, a middle-aged single woman who runs her own business in Harrisburg, and met up with May while she was off receiving medical treatment in Atlantic City. She's determined to do things for herself and help out around the house while she's staying with Cliff and May (at their invitation), but Olly and Laura want no part of it, insisting that more traditionally conservative views on social interaction be upheld. (They're also hardly above making their impressions of the newcomer known.)

What follows is mostly a battle of wits as Daisy, sometimes accidentally and sometimes on purpose, integrates herself into Cliff's life, changing the outlook and behavior of everyone involved. As directed by Russell Treyz, the play is quick-moving and intelligent without a trace of dating present; Daisy Mayme is bursting with humor and a burgeoning sense of warmth buried beneath its somewhat simplistic comic façade.

The standouts of the cast are Camp and Brown, who clearly define and brandish their weapons in the war of ideas that consumes the play. Hock mines plenty of comedy from his few brief minutes of stage time, Soule's May is impressively strong-willed, while Cuskern effectively understates his confusion at being torn between traditional ideas and more modern ones. The other performers are all fine in their roles, and Rebecca Morrison's costumes and Stephen Petrilli's lighting design are simply but efficiently executed.

If Daisy Mayme occasionally plays a bit like a modern TV sitcom, that is, perhaps, to be expected. Still, its real-world awareness and presentation give it a relevance that nearly eight decades have not been able to mute. May all (or even most) of today's television programs be so lucky!

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Pearl Theatre Company
Daisy Mayme
Through May 11
Running Time: 2 hours 40 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions
Theatre 80, 80 St. Mark’s Place between 1st and 2nd Avenues
Schedule and Tickets: (212) 598-9802