Henry James’ Washington Square has had a long life in print, onstage and on the silver screen, where it took on the title of The Heiress. Updating its story of a plain, awkward girl who's the daughter of a wealthy but unloving parent, and her pursuit by a young man who may or may not be a fortune hunter, seems like a good idea; and playwright Victoria Stewart has had some critical success with her version of the story, Rich Girl, now onstage at Florida Studio Theatre’s Gompertz Theatre.
But this production too often feels stilted and overperformed, as if making up for Stewart’s failure to breathe real life into her characters. There are only a few moments where we believe in the plausibility of what we’re seeing onstage, and that’s too bad, because there is potential here.
Ali Rose Dachis plays Claudine, the purple-haired, lacking-in-confidence daughter of a Suze Orman-like financial guru named Eve Walker (Allison Daugherty), who managed to overcome the wreck of her marriage to Claudine’s father to become a wealthy woman and a CNBC success. But her success has come at a cost; unable to trust anyone (except perhaps her loyal assistant Maggie, played by Tanesha Gary), she has communicated to her daughter her lack of belief in her as well.
Which might make Claudine, who has the job of proving herself through her work at Eve’s philanthropic foundation, a prime target for the handsome Henry (Justin Adams), a former high school classmate and not very successful theater director who comes asking for a grant for his strapped company. As coached by Eve and Maggie, Claudine manages to say no to the grant, but will she ultimately say yes to Henry’s hunt for her heart?
There’s actually not much doubt she will fall into his arms like a plucked fruit. Nor can there be much doubt that Eve will fight to break up the couple, after she has Maggie hire a private investigator to track Henry’s past girlfriends and debts. But is it possible that Henry is sincere in his feelings for Claudine? Or that, even if he’s not, Claudine could still be happy with him?
Rich Girl (played out on a nice set by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay that doubles as a restaurant or a TV studio but mostly functions as Eve’s upscale New York apartment) attempts to mingle those questions with broader questions about love and money, and what the lack or presence thereof can do to us. But we never care much about the characters and their plights, because (under Jessica Holt’s direction) they never feel real.
There is some chemistry between Adams and Dachis, but Dachis is more convincing in the play’s first half, as the gauche and innocent Claudine, than she is in the second, when she transforms into a younger version of her mother. Gary delivers in her final scene of the play, but that’s only after overdoing a drunk scene (and others) earlier on. And while Daugherty’s body posture (and the belted, high-heeled attire Abby Parker designs for her) may summon up a real-life figure like Orman, over time the affectations grow a little annoying.
It’s unfortunate, because there is room to explore what being rich—or not—and being loved—or not—means in today’s high-pitched urban milieu. It’s just not very involving here.
Rich Girl continues through May 26; for tickets call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.