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A CurtainUp Review

Daisy Mayme

I think it's a terrible thing to let yourself be cheated out of life. Of course, it's all right to do the right thing by people, but be sure you do the right thing for yourself while you're at it. Because half the time they don't appreciate it.
--- Daisy Mayme Plunkett, who speaks from experience when she advises Cliff Mettinger, who's spent all his life "doing the right thing" for his mother and sisters, to grab happiness while he can.
Samantha Soule and Robin Leslie Brown (Photo: Ted Bloom )
Sometimes even the playwright awarded the latest Pulitzer prize is little known to the general public, or, for that matter, regular theater goers. This year's winner, Nilo Cruz, is a case in point. Still, several of the comedies that made George Kelly one of the most successful practitioners of the craft of playwriting, continue to be regularly revived -- with his send-up of community theater, The Torch-Bearers, even making it to New York a few seasons ago (our review). His Pulitzer prize winner, Craig's Wife (1925), is known largely through the video of its last movie version (1950) which starred Joan Crawford and was renamed Harriet Craig -- a name my husband and I have adopted as a synonym for super neatnicks of our acquaintance.

Daisy Mayme (1926), now being revived at the Pearl Theatre through May 11th, has never enjoyed the popularity of the above plays or Kelly's other hit, The Show Off (1924). It ran for 101 performances on Broadway under Kelly's own direction and, at least to my knowledge, has never been seen again. Though it is utterly predictable and takes too long to get going, Daisy Mayme Plunkett and the Mettinger clan about whom it revolves are typical Kelly characters-- authentic American representatives of middle-class people facing changing social mores.

I for one am grateful to the Pearl Theatre for providing this rare look at this example of the well-made comedy of manners which, even though dated in style, deals with timeless themes -- in the case of Daisy Mayme, the struggle between family ties and happiness, and the encroachment of progressive ideas on established rules of behavior.

Typical of Kelly's social satires of this period, the women in Daisy Mayme are the dominant characters, with Cliff Mettinger (Dominik Cuskern), the pivotal male figure, a pawn between his sister Laura Fenner (played to uptight perfection by Joanne Camp) and the title character (Robin Leslie Brown investing Daisy Mayme with great warmth and humor).

Laura represents propriety and the closed family circle. Daisy Mayme Plunkett is the classic outsider and more free-spirited and life affirming. To her pianos are meant to make music, even though protocol frowns on music in a house where someone has recently died. She comes as a guest to the Mettinger homestead after striking up a friendship with Cliff's niece, seventeen-year-old, recently orphaned May (Samantha Soule, a welcome addition to the Pearl roster of regulars) during an Atlantic City holiday. Cliff's other sister, Olly (the always reliable Carol Schultz), while at first Laura's ally in undermining Daisy's appeal to their brother, is less rigid and obviously destined to be won over by the outsider's brash charm.

Director Russell Treyz has encouraged Joanne Camp to play up the traits that link Laura Fenner to the ultra neat and orderly Harriet Craig who was her chronological predecessor in the Kelly oeuvre. Ms. Camp does so magnificently as is evident from the way she eyes the just cleaned living room for one undiscovered dust and compulsively straighten the fringes on the Persian rugs. However, the similarities between the characters are superficial. Laura may be an uptight fusspot, but she's not nearly as toweringly mean or tragic as Harriet Craig. Her actions stem from powerlessness and frustration over a life with a stingy husband as well as her inability to dissuade her daughter (Rachel Botchan) from marrying a young man who is unlikely to give her a better life.

Mr. Treyz would have been well served if he had tried harder to step up the tempo of the first act which introduces the main players. Perhaps if Leo T. Van Allen who's in charge of properties could have added a couch and a few chairs to the set there wouldn't be quite so much standing around by the actors and the slow pace would not be quite so obvious.

Fortunately, things do pick up in the second act. To add comic momentum there's a show-stopping scene in which a garrulous old neighbor (played with great relish by Robert Hock) urges Cliff to marry Ms. Plunkett and also sheds some light on the personality of May's mother who apparently liked him a lot better than her surviving sisters do. There's also a strong scene to bring the antagonism between Laura and Daisey Mayme to full tilt and the subplot is set in motion. This involves Laura's daughter (Rachel Botchan generally has little to do except look very pretty) and her fiancé (Sean McNall) whose character -- all talk and nothing to show for it -- is transparent the moment he sets his wing-tipped shoes on stage.

Speaking of those wing-tipped shoes, Rebecca Morrison has dressed everyone to the nines in handsome 1920s costumes. And to further abet your sense of being back in that period, the play is presented in its original format of three acts and two intermissions. With George Kelly as much a rarity in modern day New York as repertory theater companies, who better to revive his least produced play than one of the city's remaining repertory companies than the aptly named Pearl Theatre.

Written by George Kelley
Directed by Russell Treyz
Cast: Rachel Botchan, Robin Leslie Brown, Joanne Camp, Dominic Cuskern, Robert Hock, Sean McNallCarol Schultz, Samantha Soule
Scenic Consultant: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Rebecca Morrison
Lighting Design Sephen Petrilli
Sound Design: Christopher J. Bailey
Properties: Leo T. Van Allen
Running time: 2 1/2 hours, includes 2 intermissions
Pearl at Theatre 80, 80 St. Mark's Place (1st/ 2nd Aves) 212/ 598-9802 or online at
4/08/03-5/11/03; opening 4/13/03.
Tuesdays (no performance Tuesday, April 22) at 7 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Wednesdays, Saturdays (no Sat. matinee May 3 or May 10), and Sundays at 2 p.m..
$30 for weekday performances and Saturday matinees and $40 for Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees. Student and senior rush tickets are $10 and are available one hour prior to each performance, subject to availability. TDF vouchers are accepted subject to availability. Group sales also are available.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 4/11/03 press performance

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