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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Sabrina Fair

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 race—assuming 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 everyday—a 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.

Ford's Theatre
Sabrina Fair
October 1st 24th
By Samuel A. Taylor
Margaret, a housekeeper: Donna Migliaccio
Maude Larrabee: Helen Hedman
Julia Ward McKinlock: Kimberly Schraf
Linus Larrabee Jr.: Todd Gearhart
Linus Larrabee: John Dow
David Larrabee: Tom Story
Gretchen/Mary Townsend: Tonya Beckman Ross
Sabrina Fairchild: Susan Heyward
Tom Fairchild: Craig Wallace
Pamela/Jane, a maid: Julia Proctor
Peter/James, a cook: Michael Morrow Hammack
Bob/John, a gardener: Derek Kahn Thompson
Betty/Jessie, upstairs maid: Casie Platt
Paul d'Argenson: Bolton Marsh
Directed by Stephen Rayne
511 Tenth St., N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-347-4833 or www.fordstheatre.org


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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