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Play House’s ‘Rich Girl’ offers laughs and insights

If you think money does not matter, you won’t get much from the Cleveland Play House production of “Rich Girl.” In this script, money is the root of all action. It drives all of the characters. The variable in the story is how often money influences our decisions and choices. “Rich Girl” is a contemporary adaptation of the play “The Heiress,” which originally was a novel by Henry James.

Act 1 is practically all straightforward comedy, with some slapstick farce thrown in for good measure. Claudine’s mother is an incredibly wealthy self-made success who hosts a TV show of advice for women. Think Suze Orman, who also was a waitress and took control of her financial future. Claudine is being groomed as a successor to her mother’s empire, but her lack of social skills, plain features and good heart hold her back. Along with her mother’s executive assistant, she has the job of saying “no” at least 10 times daily to requests for philanthropy. A disaster of a lunch at a cafe puts her in contact with a handsome former classmate seeking money for his nonprofit theater company. Beyond that business question, there seems to be a romantic attraction between Henry and Claudine. By the time intermission happens, we don’t really know if Henry is in love with Claudine or only in love with the potential for money.

Crystal Finn as Claudine and Tony Roach as Henry deftly switch the tone and mood of the play from broad comedy to tense dialogues with emotions always in the front. Director Michael Bloom also benefits with Lakewood native Dee Hoty as the driven mother, Eve. From an opening monologue on Eve’s TV show – the theme is “get a prenuptial” – Eve is the saddest and most tragic of the quartet of characters. Act 2 puts frank and often brutal discussions on stage, yet there still is a digression to classic farce with a character hidden in a closet. All this works together very well.

“Rich Girl” affirms that money is important. It not only influences our choices, but drives them. The big unresolved question – Does Henry really love Claudine? – gives playwright Victoria Stewart a huge canvas to explore possibilities, and she does so brilliantly.

The production features a palatial Manhattan apartment (“We own the whole floor,” Claudine declares) and set pieces designed by Wilson Chin that cleverly do double duty. The unrelentingly aggressive change of scene music selected by Jill BC Du Boff is odd and distracting, but “Rich Girl” in total is a production that satisfies completely with entertainment and opportunities for speculation. The show runs through May 19 at the Play House Second Stage at PlayhouseSquare.

 

 

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