RICH GIRL by Victoria Stewart (@ Lyric Stage through April 26th) is based on the Henry James novel about a shy, dutiful daughter of a controlling father who does not approve of his daughter’s choice in men. Stewart updates it and makes the father a controlling mother. And she makes it funny!
The heiress, Gloria Vanderbilt, famously struggled as a child in a difficult relationship with her litigious family. Newspaper’s in the 1930s called her “the poor little rich girl” when everyone wanted her inheritance but no one wanted her. The heroine of Stewart’s RICH GIRL has the advantage of times being different nowadays …and she has an advocate in her mother’s sympathetic assistant. Unfortunately she has a mother from the l930s who tells the girl that she “ruined” her mother’s life by being born.
Amelia Broome plays the mother with the hard edge of a pragmatist. She’s a financial guru, a la Suzy Ormond, and she’s determined to keep her daughter from “ruining” her own life. The daughter will inherit her financial empire and run the company’s philanthropic foundation so she’ll be easy prey, the mother reasons, for fortune hunters. Of course, the daughter falls for a penniless theater artist.
RICH GIRL is smartly directed by Courtney O’Connor. Sashsa Castroverde, as the daughter who thinks (because mother told her so) that she is unlovable, undergoes a physical and emotional transformation when the power shifts in her direction. We’re on her side when she’s a bundle of frayed and shattered nerves and we’re delighted when she blossoms. But we’re not sure whether or not to root for the suitor with feet of clay (nicely played up the middle by Joe Short). It’s Celeste Oliva, as the trusted assistant, who holds the solution to the conundrum. Her advice is simple and profound and makes the play worth seeing.