by Hugh Hunter
“Sabrina Fair” by Samuel Taylor enjoyed a good Broadway run in 1953. Billy Wilder turned it into a hit movie the next year. In the process, Wilder transformed the play into a conventional love triangle, letting the elfish charm of Audrey Hepburn light up the screen. But director Noël Hanley sticks with Taylor’s original script in her current revival at Allens Lane Theater.
In this production the insular ennui of the central characters dominates, as the strange foreboding of the 1950s displaces Hollywood’s romantic comedy formula. Young Sabrina wants “to do everything, to see everything.” What can come of such gushy aspiration? It is easy to see why her playful nemesis, older and world-weary Linus Larrabee Jr. (John Barker), tosses her off. Yet in his own life, Linus is cynical and lost.
Hanley’s set is minimal, a simple outdoor patio that adumbrates the posh estate of the Larrabee clan on coastal Long Island. This is where Sabrina (Kellie Cooper) grew up, the mousey daughter of chauffer Fairchild (Joe Cooper, Kellie’s real-life father). Sabrina lived in Paris for five years, in part to forget her childhood infatuation for David Larrabee (James Jesberger). Now she returns home, an arresting woman so vivacious and glamorous some do not at first recognize her.
Kellie Cooper is not Audrey Hepburn, but she has her own allure. Arriving with boundless effervescence, Sabrina affects everyone. Her uncertainty about men, marriage and life’s purpose drives the play. Fearing “domestication,” she fled her wealthy Parisian beau. But back on Long Island, David is no longer the dashing man of her childhood.
“Sabrina Fair” is an upper tier comedy; satirical touches leaven the play, willful characters abound, and class plays a prominent role. Maude Larrabee (Jessica McDonald), the family matriarch, fights a losing battle in directing her two sons. Mark Grayson is richly comical as her husband, Linus Sr., largely addle-brained but aware enough to know that Sabrina threatens his class position. And chauffer Fairchild throws everyone lots of comical curveballs.
You never know quite what to make of Linus Jr., who is always lurking on the periphery You suspect all of his generously given advice conceals neediness, and you side with Aunt Julia (Paula Kem), who screams, “Get in her life or get out of it. Stop playing God.” Better stage movement would help to draw out the meaning of his dissimulation. That Linus Jr. still lurks about even when French lover Paul d’Argenson (Christopher Feagans) shows up, strains credulity.
Though the Allens Lane show is a satisfying romantic comedy, it has eerie qualities that embody the distinctive 1950s’ feeling of dread, a nameless discontent with a suffocating conformity as expressed in other art of the period, e.g., Film Noir, the plays of William Inge, “Rebel Without a Cause” and the explosion of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Allens Lane is located at 601 W. Allens Ln. “Sabrina Fair” will run through Dec 2. Tickets available at 215-248-0546.