Sarah Levine Simon has written a 75 minute one act play, The Portrait, in the spirit of Noel Coward, or perhaps Oscar Wilde, but unlike those chestnuts, the wit is low caliber. The story concerns a pair of upper east side brothers and their wives who convene for a dinner party with a plot to buy a valuable family painting from a younger relative. That’s all that happens, though there is a humorous twist. With a plot that thin, it would be important for the banter between the worldly, wealthy senior citizens to pop and fizz with wit, clever turns of phrase, or at least some kind of social commentary about the differences between the wealthy retired characters and the struggling young artists that populate the play. There just isn’t much there and so the seemingly short 75 minutes seems rather long. The twist at the end of the play is just not enough of a justification for the play to exist at all. Had this sketch of an idea been distilled into a compact 30 or 40 minutes it might have served well in an evening of one acts the way Noel Coward’s own slight one acts fit into a program of trifles called Tonight at 8:30 once upon a time.
Roger Hendricks Simon has directed the play with an appropriate high style that the material seems to require, but none of the actors––not one––are able to make the style believable and all come off as simply over-acting. This was a shock since a perusal of the program biographies shows a cast with many notable film, TV and theatre credits. However, this cast of mostly senior actors doesn’t seem to be up to the task of making this slim offering work.
Josie Williams’ costumes are contemporary and do a nice job at helping to define character. Williams also co-designed the set with David Bragin, which utilizes attractive furniture pieces on a richly patterned rug, but becomes awkward when the story moves from the living room to the dining room––a long choreographed furniture change is interminable.
The cast includes Rutanya Alda as a clichéd French maid, James Williams and Roger Hendricks as the elderly brothers, June Stein and Caitlin O’Heaney as their wives and James Leaf and Jessica Eleanor Grant as the young couple. The play is produced by AdLib Productions in association with The Simon Studio at the Shetler Studio Theatre, 244 West 54th Street. The production runs through January 26th and tickets can be purchased in advance at www.smarttix.com. For more information go to www.niany.com.