Sabrina Fairchild, daughter of the chauffeur of the powerful Larrabee family, has returned home (a beautiful courtyard designed by Joey Lorincz) after a 5 year stint in Europe. Her purpose in coming home is to find out if she is in love with David, the younger son of the Larrabees, but meets her intellectual equal in the Larrabees’ older son, Linus. The journey to find which son will win her heart is the central plot of Sabrina Fair opening tomorrow at the Bellevue Little Theatre.
On the face of it, it seems a rather simple story, but Samuel Taylor’s script is actually a complex, sophisticated piece of work for the early 1950s. Taylor bravely challenges the social strata of his day with his writing. He lived in a time where the rich had their domain, the common people had theirs, and never the twain would meet. Women were relegated to a secondary status, expected to marry and kow tow to their husbands. That Taylor would take on this class system and that he would do it through the voice of a strong woman was certainly a bold and daring move.
Taking this message and communicating it in a non-preachy, entertaining way is a difficult task, but director Sonia Keffer does an admirable job doing just that with her well balanced cast. Ms Keffer’s direction paints a vividly multi-layered picture that is charming, sweet, thought provoking, even a little melancholy.
Mary Trecek is splendid in the title role of Sabrina Fairchild. Described as shy and mousey before she appears on stage, Ms Trecek’s Sabrina is anything but as she roars onto the stage with a lovely energy and confidence, showing how much the character has been transformed by her 5 years away.
Ms Trecek has created one of the most well rounded characters I have seen on stage in quite a spell. Her Sabrina is caring, thoughtful, a romantic. In short, she has the best qualities of the ideal woman of that era. But she is also intelligent, strong, confident, and determined. Sabrina wants to live life on her own terms and infect people with the same zest as she possesses. Yet, in a profound moment, she realizes, “I’ve changed over the past 5 years, but the world hasn’t”. It doesn’t dampen her faith, but she realizes that she cannot force the world to go on this journey with her. All she can do is leave the door open and hope the world will follow.
I can’t remember the last time I was so completely blown away by a performance as I was with Will Muller’s interpretation of Linus Larrabee, Jr. The trick with Linus is that he is a bit of a prick, but has a heart of gold. As the force behind the successful Larrabee empire, Linus is a guy who does what he pleases and does not care what the world thinks of him. But he is also fiercely loyal to his family, will do what he believes to be right, and actually is looking for love. He’s just so used to having to be strong that he doesn’t know how to be vulnerable. Muller brilliantly walks that tightrope of Linus’ character and expertly peels off Linus’ layers until we see the real man underneath and he does it all with a sardonic half-smile that says more about Linus’ views on life than the dialogue.
Phyllis Bonds is given a remarkable opportunity with the role of Julia Ward McClintock. I suspect “Aunt” Julia serves as the voice of Taylor himself. Having been reared in the world of the wealthy, Ms Bonds’ Julia is the character who notices that the times are definitely changing and that the world should not adhere to the class system that it embraced at the time.
Tonight’s performance showed that Ms Bonds has certainly laid the groundwork for a masterful bit of acting. Julia has some of the best dialogue in the play with her witty zingers and observations and Ms Bonds certainly had a grasp on that wordplay, but she needed a bit more zip to her verbal pitches. Once she cranks it up a few notches, this is going to be one gutbusting performance.
Janet Macklin and Paul Schneider play the heads of the Larrabee family, Maude and Linus Larrabee, Sr. I believe these characters are meant to represent society’s thinking at the time as Ms Macklin’s Maude, while likable, is most definitely a snob. Maude definitely believes that the rich and common folk should remain separate and thinks Sabrina has entrapped her dear little David into marrying her after “having a taste of the high life” in Europe. But, perhaps echoing Taylor’s own hope that society could change its thinking, Ms Macklin also gives Maude an open-mindedness as she is willing to admit that maybe her thinking is wrong and accepts Sabrina once she has decided between her two boys.
Schneider’s Linus, Sr. also demonstrates this belief in the class system as he is vehemently opposed to the idea of his son marrying the chauffeur’s daughter, but is at least willing to let his son choose his own course. Schneider also does a fine job serving as the play’s comedy relief as Linus, Sr. is quite a bit of a doddering, old man who forgets names, people, and events (even if they occurred only a few seconds ago). He even has a most macabre hobby in that he enjoys attending funerals.
Larry Wroten’s Fairchild (Sabrina’s father) serves as an amusing mirror image to Schneider’s Linus, Sr. Through Fairchild, Taylor takes a beautifully satirical shot at society’s mindset because Fairchild also thinks the rich and the common should not mingle because it would be an insult to the commoners. I thought Wroten’s performance was a bit wobbly, probably due to opening night jitters. At points he was laugh out loud funny and, at others, he seemed to lose confidence and sureness of his interpretation. Another night or two and I think the kinks can, and will, be worked out.
Dan Whitehouse brings a boyish innocence to David Larrabee. Whitehouse’s David is an incurable romantic. He falls in love at the drop of a hat and has been divorced, at least once. But he is also indicative of a changing societal mindset as he doesn’t care about finding someone wealthy. He wants to marry for love, whether that person is an heiress or a humble daughter of a chauffeur.
The night’s performance did have a few flaws. The pace was sluggish, especially in the first act. Cues needed to be tighter. Volume needed increasing and there was some uneven acting in the supporting cast. With that being said, I have every confidence that these flaws will shortly disappear and this lighthearted, but deep, comedy will fulfill the great potential it presented tonight.
Sabrina Fair plays at the Bellevue Little Theatre from May 1-17. Showtimes are Friday & Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. The Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission in Bellevue, NE. Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and TAG members, and $9 for students with a valid student ID. Reservations can be made at 402-291-1554 between the hours of 10am-4:30pm Monday-Saturday.