Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Misalliance
Ford's Theatre has revived Samuel A. Taylor's 1953 comedy of manners Sabrina Fair in a bright, buoyant production that tends to muffle the less-than-pleasant underlying message: love can overcome mismatches of both class and raceassuming the partners are financially equal.
Taylor's play, better known for its film versions from 1954 (with Audrey Hepburn) and 1995 (with Julia Ormond), is a Cinderella story in which the heroine goes a long way toward rescuing herself. Sabrina Fairchild (Susan Heyward) grew up on the Larrabees' palatial Long Island estate as the ugly-duckling daughter of the family chauffeur (Craig Wallace). Now, after earning a college degree and working in Paris for five years, she has blossomed into her true, swanlike self, to the delight and amazement of the family's two sons: Linus Jr. (Todd Gearhart), a hard-driving industrialist, and more casual David (Tom Story).
Director Stephen Rayne has added an extra layer to the complications that Sabrina must navigate before she can make a future with one of the Larrabees: she and her father are African-American, at a time when interracial marriage was widely outlawed (though not in New York, where the story takes place). The play is a fairy tale, as is made clear by the spectral presence of the silent servants and the "Once upon a time ..." opening narration by the worldly housekeeper Margaret (Donna Migliaccio), so the final deus ex machina is not really out of place.
Taylor's portrayal of independent women is especially interesting, both for its own time and as viewed a half century later. Sabrina feels no need to "domesticate" herself through marriage; she wants to make the most of her "talent for living." She stands in contrast not only to Maude Larrabee (Helen Hedman), the well-bred matriarch who lives for beauty and romance, but to Maude's friend Julia Ward McKinlock (Kimberly Schraf), a witty magazine editor who alludes to her own adventures in Paris 30 years earlier.
The cast sparkles, from Heyward's beaming smile and grace to Hedman's aristocratic amusement; John Dow's slightly addled charm as the Larrabee patriarch; Story's insouciance; Gearhart's rugged intensity; and Wallace's quiet dignity as a man who serves without being servile.
Daniel Lee Conway's monumental scenic design epitomizes a world of privilege, sheltered from the everydaya place where Linus Jr., an avid yachtsman, can ask, "Why should the world make us ashamed of the things we can afford?" Wade Laboissonniere's costumes add to the illusion.