by John Van Druten
Directed by Michael Wilson
Starring Margaret Colin and Harriet Harris
A Production of the Roundabout Theatre Company at
The American Airlines Theatre / 227 West 42nd Street / (212) 719-1300

Reviewed by David Spencer

There are these little plays, they're almost confections, really, that are remembered fondly, or maybe they fueled a sweet little movie that's more familiar, inspiring someone to look back toward the source material, but anyway, near-vanished things they are, off the radar but for the whim that says: Well wouldn't this be pleasant for summer?

     And of course there's a balance between pleasant and necessary, and there are levels of necessary to boot. Paul Osborn's Morning's at Seven really was an overlooked gem (in fact, its initial 1940 Broadway run was only 44 performances), but it sustained a hit Broadway revival in 1980 and a respectable one in 2002 because its look at small-town family life, and the plot turns within, were delightfully human but just as delightfully untelegraphed. 40 years after its debut it still had the capacity to surprise new audiences. It wasn't anything we needed to see, it wouldn't change our lives, our views on theatre or influence anything much...but for the kind of thing it was, it was A plus. Which made it at least an example: If you're going to do this kind of thing, it said, implicitly, here's how it's done best.

     John van Druten's play Old Acquaintance, however—currently in revival c/o the Roundabout Theatre Company—is another fettle of kitsch. Part comedy of manners, part romantic comedy, it's about two old friends, both successful novelists, one, Katherine Markham (Margaret Colin) a writer of more literary fiction who has a modest but well-regarded catalog; one, Mildred Watson Drake (Harriet Harris) a prolific author of trashy but bestselling romances. as befitting their output, Katherine is a realistic humanist, Mildred is an over-dramatic romantic and this leaves much room for rivalry in their odd-couple best-friendship. An especial touchpoint is the well-being of Mildred's daughter Dierdre (Diane Davis), just entering womanhood and assessing several romantic options. Her "aunt" Katherine has always been her more pragmatic second mother, and the complication here is...

     ...nothing I can describe to you without giving away the game. Problem is, though, the play gives away its own game quite nicely enough. Once the puzzle pieces—which is to say the characters—are established and in place—the crucial others being Katherine's younger lover Corey (Rudd Kendall) and Mildred's ex-husband Preston (Stephen Bogardus)—every story move is utterly predictable. Not without some charm, I admit, for the cast, the lead ladies especially, have enough in the way of juicy characterization to fill the time sort of agreeably, and director Michael Wilson keeps the proceedings running with bland smoothness (which is exactly what's required). But between this and television, which is currently exploring similar themes of love, life, romance and womanhood in shows like Men in Trees, Desperate Housewives, The Starter Wife, Sex and the City, Gilmore Girls & etc., it's no contest. For wit, sophistication and insight—even tearjerking—the tube wins in a walk.

     And I guess by that measure, necessary means different enough to leave the house for. Which Old Acquaintance simply isn't. Even as a glimpse of the past, it doesn't have the requisite period style to be an engaging glimpse into the time-capsule (despite the much-admired Bette Davis movie it spawned in 1943). On its own terms, which are all that can be offered here, it's just a play past its sell-by date.

     Summer goods need a little more freshness than one may think...

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