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Off Broadway Reviews

Strictly Dishonorable

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Michael Labbadia and Keilly McQuail.
Photo by Leah Caddigan.
Fans of classic romantic screwball comedy films like Preston Sturges's The Lady Eve are well advised to make their way to The Flea Theater for the Attic Theater Company's first-rate revival of Sturges's Strictly Dishonorable, the 1929 hit play that skyrocketed the career of the soon-to-be Hollywood screenwriter and director.

Strictly Dishonorable, with a brisk running time of two hours, could not be in better hands, from Laura Braza's direction, to Travis Chinick's period costumes, to the surprisingly (for an Off Off Broadway production) rich scenic design by Liz Sherrier, to the uniformly strong cast. Not to mention the sharp, smart, and well-crafted writing style for which Sturges would become famous.

The basic tale is this: Isabelle, a young woman resigned to her pending marriage to a respectable (if controlling and temperamental) stick-in-the-mud, falls for a handsome womanizer she meets in a New York speakeasy. Is this just a prenuptial interlude, or is it something more?

The entire play takes place in the speakeasy and in one of the upstairs apartments, where Isabelle's would-be paramour Count Augustino di Ruvo (aka Gus) resides. As the pair circles one another, Isabelle (a terrific Keilly McQuail) shows us her independent spirit and rebelliousness alongside a romantic vulnerability, while Gus (Michael Labbadia, also excellent) is soulful and seductive. Sturges has given both characters interesting backstories as well, providing insights into the life that Isabelle has escaped from and the glamorous world in which Gus resides; he is also a rather famous opera singer whom Isabelle has seen perform at the Met.

The couple is surrounded by other denizens of the speakeasy, including the owner (Christopher Tocco) and two of his employees (Ryan Trout and Nick Ritacco), and Judge Dempsey, well-performed by John Robert Tillotson as a sort of kind-hearted, lonely, and sometimes blustery Falstaff. Rounding out the cast are Thomas Christopher Matthews as Henry, Isabelle's snobbish and bigoted fiancé, and William John Austin as Officer Mulligan, who has been sent to find the "kidnapped" Isabelle at Henry's behest. All come together to make this a delightful summer's outing, as well as an opportunity to catch Sturges's rarely performed stage play.

Strictly Dishonorable
Through August 10
Flea Theater, 41 White Street between Broadway and Church Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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