The New York Idea
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
January 29, 2011
Prior to the creation of any number of romantic comedies about divorced couples, their new, soon-to-be spouses, and the old spouses for whom they still secretly pine, there was Langdon Mitchell’s 1906 comedy, The New York Idea.
105 years after its very well-received initial Broadway run (with a revival in the teens), it is being given a revival, courtesy of the Atlantic Theater Company, with direction by Mark Brokaw and a substantially adapted—and thoroughly charmless—script by David Auburn, the writer of the great play Proof.
Simply, the problem is this: a play about a freewheeling divorcee who is to be remarried to a fellow divorcee but hasn’t gotten over her ex-husband isn’t exactly as provocative as it was at the turn of the last century, when liberated women were few, divorce was still taboo, and the thought of two divorced people marrying one another was practically unheard of.
All Cynthia Karslake seems to care about is horse racing, and the chestnut mare who shares her name. She divorced her husband, John, for what seems to be the pettiest of reasons, and now is to marry the Judge Philip Philimore. As the well-known divorcee, Jaime Ray Newman, a Los Angeles actress with mostly television credits to her name, though cold, is quite magnetic, and completely stuck in the wrong period. Newman skews far too modern in voice and physicality, almost as if she’s in training to be Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha, and Miranda’s fifth for Cosmos, rather than a free woman of the oughts.
As the three potential objects of her affection, Jeremy Shamos as John, Michael Countryman as Philip, and Rick Holmes as alluring Brit Wilfred Cates-Darby all make very fine impressions. Shamos digs deep into the pathos needed for the role, though he doesn’t have much chemistry with the chilly Newman. Countryman is excellent as the stolid Judge, who ends up the cuckold. And Holmes is utterly delightful as he romantically wafts back and forth between Cynthia and his number two choice, the Judge’s bohemian ex-wife Vida (the brilliant Francesca Faridany, who knows her way around Auburn’s one-liners and entendre-laden dialogue.)
Allen Moyer’s handsome set creates three credibly different parlor rooms, and Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting is unobtrusive. There’s something off about Michael Krass’ costumes, and dressing Cynthia in a shockingly pink wedding gown is too freewheeling, even for her. Lewis Flinn’s incidental music is enjoyable.
In trying to create a period comedy for contemporary times, Auburn has removed all of the character and commentary (remember, this a racy subject once) from Mitchell’s original text, which can be read here. What he ends up creating is a run-of-the-mill, distinction-free romantic comedy that could just as easily be a vehicle for Jennifer Aniston or Katherine Heigl or Ashton Kutcher.
Brokaw, meanwhile, keeps the dialogue speedily paced, but the more farcical elements of the plot are far too restrained. Where the action should gallop, it just trots.