Old Money examines the ways money does indeed change everything: relationships, self-image, art, history. Especially history, as the play takes place across time, from the early 20th century, to our very own current Gilded Age, and even into the future. The setting is a famed Upper East Side mansion once owned by a well-known tycoon, but recently purchased and returned to its former glory by a new money tycoon, one Jeffrey Bernstein (Geoffrey Colton).
Though Bernstein is the big money man, a former Headstart teacher who made his fortune through arbitrage, the heart of the play is a Louie Auchincloss-type: Tobias Vivian Pfeiffer III (Wood Lockhart), who grew up in the house and spent his adult life as an historian of New York's moneyed society.
The main action takes place during a party Bernstein is throwing. In August, no less, as a way of proving his social standing, since everyone who is anyone flees the steaming city in summer, but must return to Manhattan or miss the event of the year. Over the course of the evening, however, we are transported back to 1917 and another party, with the cast playing a whole new set of roles, revealing to us how old money wasn't always oldat some point it must be acquired.
The text itself has a certain insider charm to it and, even though the second act drags, there's a good time to be had herebut only if director Kim Bromley and her cast could figure out how to find it and share it with us. As it is, they haven't interpreted the play, they've merely presented it. The elements are therea set, costumes (the only real bright spot in the production, by Michael A. Berg), lighting, actorsall that's lacking is art.
No one in the cast seems to have discovered any level of depth in their characters. They declaim their lines with (mostly) sufficient diction and volume, but with a complete lack of dramatic import or comic timing. Almost everything that is emphasized is emphasized in the same way, over and over and over again. The performances have all the depth and insight of a first cold table reading. We never get the sense that these actors are anything but actors. The play desperately wants a sense of languor and disregard to communicate the sense of privilege and expectation enormous wealth bestows upon those who have it, but all we get instead is a straightforward and unimaginative recitation of lines, some very ungraceful dancing, and the lingering sensation that, old or new, whatever money you spent on this ticket has been wasted.
Old Money plays Thursdays-Sundays through August 17, 2014, at the Barn Theatre on the grounds of the Marin Art and Garden Center in Ross. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Weekend ticket prices are $26 general admission, $22 for seniors (62+) and $13 for children under 18. Thursday night tickets are $20, $13 for children or students with a high school or college ID. Tickets can be ordered by calling 415-456-9555, ext. 1 or visiting www.rossvalleyplayers.com.