Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of If I Forget
The quality of this production begins with Daniel Lee Conway's majestic scenic design, which inspires gasps at first sight. It's the expansive (and expensive) Washington hotel suite where Harry Brock (Edward Gero), a roughneck scrap-metal tycoon who made his money the old-fashioned waythrough cheating and extortionhas come to stay. The elegant chandelier, the neoclassical décor, and the gilded staircase provide an amusing contrast to the bullying Harry, who never talks when he can shout.
Traveling with Harry are his lawyer Ed Devery (Eric Hissom), once a great legal mind and now a self-loathing alcoholic; his cousin and lackey Eddie (Evan Casey); and his mistress Billie Dawn (Kimberly Gilbert), who is blonde, beautiful and, at first, utterly self-absorbed.
Harry soon realizes that Billie doesn't understand the niceties of Washington society, so he hires magazine journalist Paul Verrall (Cody Nickell) to tutor her and give her a bit of surface polish. Things don't work out the way Harry thinks they will. (The one old-fashioned thing about Kanin's conceit is his hopeful belief that educating the public will spur a backlash against the injustices of "government between friends." As Paul says, "A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.")
Gero, one of Washington's most accomplished actors, brings a bit of self-awareness to Harry: he knows who and what he is, and he's amused by the spectacle of people sucking up to him. He only gets nasty when people don't do what he expects them to do. Gilbert, better known for more contemporary roles, nails Billie's sharp-edged voice and touchy pride and makes her transformation totally believable. She also looks luscious in the most elaborate of Kelsey Hunt's costumes.
Director Aaron Posner continues to show a rapport with his actors and a way of forging connections among them. Under his guidance, Nickell comes across as endearingly optimistic, sure that people will do the right thing once they understand what it is, and Hissom shows his character's despondency and suppressed anger without showing off. Naomi Jacobson is a delight in the minor roles of the wife of a fatuous senator (Todd Scofield, puffed-up with unearned arrogance) and an underpaid hotel maid.