by Rita Charleston
“Sabrina Fair” is a Cinderella-like story about the daughter of a chauffeur who flees to Paris after a disappointing crush on David Larrabee, the son of her father’s employer. Sabrina is looking for true love but finds her hopes and dreams stunted by the class and social conventions in place at the time. When she returns five years later all grown up and sophisticated, life is different for all concerned.. Penned by Samuel Taylor and directed by Noel Hanley, the play continues at Allens Lane Theatre, 601 West Allens Ln., through Dec. 2.
As the maternal head of the Larrabee family, Jessica McDonald plays Maude Larrabee. Maude is the matriarch of this wealthy family and sometimes comes across as very narrow-minded and class conscious. But during the course of the play, it is revealed that she is more three-dimensional than that.
“She is very opinionated, very vocal and very funny,” McDonald explains. “Growing up, I did know some people who were something like Maude, but I don’t think you yourself have to be anything like the character you’re playing to bring her to life, just as long as you can find some kernel of humanity that you can identify with.”
With an undergraduate degree in theater and psychology from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., McDonald also holds a master’s degree in social work from Boston College, and she believes all those disciplines help her find the very things she’s looking for in any play she does.
She said, “I consider the theater my avocation and social work my real trade. But because my job in social work can be incredibly stressful and intense, I’m typically drawn to comedy as a way of getting out of myself, away from my job and a way of having a good time. And this play is just perfect for achieving that.”
As for “Sabrina Fair,” which was not only a play but also a movie with Audrey Hepburn, McDonald explains that she only saw it several weeks ago.
“I usually don’t watch any past performances because I like to make the role my own and bring the director’s vision to fruition,” she said, “and when I finally did see the movie, I must say I really disliked it. I felt the characters were one-dimensional, didn’t have a lot of depth and didn’t show any connection between the characters. But in our play it becomes evident that this is a family that very much loves each other and very much wants the best for each other.”
Originally from Boston, McDonald, 50, moved to Mt. Airy about eight years ago when her partner got a job at La Salle University.
“And we’re so happy we chose this area. We love that it’s racially and economically diverse, and we love that it’s close to the Wissahickon. Since settling here, we’ve made lots of friends. We also have wonderful neighbors, and we’re really enjoying it.”
Today, taking a break from social work but hoping to get back to it soon, McDonald has filled a great deal of her time doing theater. In this immediate area she’s appeared twice before at Allens Lane, as well as Old Academy Players in East Falls and the Drama Group in Germantown. She’s also done some directing and wouldn’t mind doing some more if and when the opportunity arises.
“Years from now I’d like to continue acting, but I would also love to create policies that would truly address the needs our most vulnerable members of society — the elderly, the poor and the mentally ill. At my age I realize I’ll probably never become a star in the theater, so I would like to focus on something I know I could do well while helping others.”
For ticket information for “Sabrina Fair,” call 215-248-0546.