Sabrina Fair: A Comedy in Four Acts
THE STORY: is a modern version of the Cinderella fable, writes Atkinson, in the Times. It is set on Long Island in the 1950s, and deals with the involvement of a very rich family named Larrabee with Sabrina Fairchild, the daughter of their family
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SABRINA FAIR REVIEWTheater: 'Sabrina Fair' at Ford's Theatre is reviewed by Nelson Pressley
By Nelson Pressley Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, October 9, 2010; C01
The thing about Sabrina Fairchild -- well, yes, she's runway lovely, and a real fashion plate after five years in Paris. And apparently she's not shy the way she was as a kid raised on the Long Island estate of the wealthy Larrabee family.
But the thing is, although Sabrina immediately catches the eyes of both Larrabee brothers (David, the playboy, and Linus, the biz whiz) when she comes home all grown up, romance would be a scandal because . . . well . . . she's the chauffeur's daughter.
Actually, the fact that dare not speak its name in the Ford's Theatre revival of Samuel A. Taylor's 1953 "Sabrina Fair" (which became the iconic Audrey Hepburn film "Sabrina") is that for this production, Sabrina is now black, the Larrabees are still white, and it's still 1953. The characters can't mention race because it's not what Taylor wrote, though he recommended it for revivals before he died in 2000.
Nontraditional casting has arguably been the most successful project of the American theater over the past generation, yet this "Sabrina Fair" raises issues that the performance does not fully resolve. For starters, the claim that class is passe in America (the rationale for inserting race as the new source of friction) is simply wishful thinking. Then there's the business of 1950s racial history, viewed terribly gingerly through this fairy-tale lens. And we always have the problem of repertory: Surely there are black playwrights groaning at the lost opportunity for their own stories as another white company takes a safe title and dabbles in the kind of race-conscious retrofitting that was progressive 25 years ago.
But while there are genuine grounds for resistance even before the curtain goes up, guess what? The show itself is charming, and surprisingly funny. It's gorgeously designed; the Larrabees' stone mansion (the set is by Daniel Lee Conway) looks like it was rolled in from Embassy Row, and Wade Laboissonniere's elegant costumes capture 1950s swank with crisp lines and vibrant flair.
What's really arresting, though, is the acting. The cast utterly buys in -- no irony, no condescension and blessedly adult, which makes for an unexpectedly laid-back, shimmering performance. Helen Hedman and Kimberly Schraf radiate savoir faire as, respectively, Maude Larrabee (mother of Linus and David) and Maude's longtime friend Julia, a fashionable magazine editor who gets a lot of the play's wise lines. As Linus, Todd Gearhart even channels the gruff cadences of William Holden (David in the Hepburn film).
Gearhart, dusky-voiced and handsome, almost overdoes the tough-guy bit, but his serious edge situates this romantic comedy right at the border of melodrama (the pleasant kind, not the drippy brand). Linus is efficient to a fault; "He hasn't made a wrong move since he was three," David observes in the kind of dry barb that's characteristic of Taylor's leisurely, appealing script. But Linus is also philosophical, and so is Sabrina; it is clearly their feelings about the basics of living that made Ford's want to explore an extra angle.
"I shall keep my place as soon as I know it," Sabrina brightly informs her worried father, and there, of course, is a heroine to love. As that place becomes increasingly hard to define, though, Sabrina later wonders, "If I'm a girl without a home, am I also a girl without a country?" So the gambit has payoffs in the text after all.
Susan Heyward, as Sabrina, not only sparkles in the role, but pertly reasons her way through the character's dilemmas. In her own way, Heyward does what Hepburn did: face complexity with a light style. Heyward's Sabrina may be fun-loving and brimming with Continental confidence, but she's also alert to every nuance as