Rich Girl Mines Familiar Territory (3.5 Stars)

Rich Girl – by Victoria Stewart; Directed by Courtney O’Connor; Scenic Design by Brynna Bloomfield; Costume Design by Mallory Frers. Produced by The Lyric Stage Company at 140 Clarendon St, Boston through April 26th.

In the grand scheme of things, is love more important than money? Apparently it depends on whom you ask. The Lyric Stage Company tackles the issue in serio-comic fashion with “Rich Girl”, the New England premiere of Beverly-based playwright Victoria Stewart’s work, and lets the audience decide for themselves. Based on the 1880 novel “Washington Square’ by Henry James (which was later adapted as a play, “The Heiress”, in 1947, with film versions appearing onscreen in 1949 and 1997), the plot is moved to the 21st century with the role of the emotionally abusive father of the original story being supplanted by a woman, a Suze Orman-esque TV financial guru named Eve.

We get Eve’s (Amelia Broome) take on love right from the opening sequence while she is taping her show and delivers the line,  “When a man and a woman love each other, truly love each other, they will want to sign a pre-nup”, (a line which I believe she stole from Elizabeth Barrett Browning). Eve is still pretty bitter following the breakup of her marriage years ago, but has redirected that anger to fuel her transformation from single mom waitress to wealthy financial advisor and low-rent inappropriate “Zen” advice dispenser.
The product of that marriage (and from Eve’s viewpoint, I use the term appropriately) is her daughter Claudine, whom she has installed as the head of her charitable foundation. When we meet Claudine (a convincing Sasha Castroverde), she is a textbook example of low self-esteem – klutzy and uncomfortable in her own skin, with waist length purple hair and a stooped manner of walking and carrying herself. She is accompanied by Maggie (the terrific Celeste Oliva), personal assistant to the mother and a bit of a babysitter/coach to the girl. The pair are scheduled to meet with Henry (Joe Short), the charismatic director of a struggling theater company seeking a benefactor to keep his company running.

Henry was a high school classmate of Claudine’s who was popular not only as an athlete but as a theater kid, while she was well…there. Claudine has been instructed by her mother to say no to Henry no matter what the proposal, just for practice, which she does. But the dashingly handsome and charming Henry throws her a curve and asks her for a date to the opening night of his theater production. The two soon begin dating, arousing the suspicion and subsequent intervention of her mother. Mom reasons that anybody as handsome and charming as Henry couldn’t possibly be interested in her for anything but her money, especially when he proposes to her on Christmas Eve, just months after the courtship began. And Mom may be right.
Eve hires a private investigator to do a background check on Henry, and based on his history of dating actress/models, Claudine is definitely not his “type”, plus he is deep in debt. And later, when Mom presents Claudine with a disinheritance agreement because of her plans to marry Henry, he is horrified to learn that she is agreeing to sign and so he disappears (at least temporarily), to the surprise of few.

I think one of the shortcomings of the play was that we’re never convinced that Henry was ever there for anything but the money, so there’s no real love story, even with an open-ended conclusion to the story. Short is given little to work with, so his characterization is a little one-dimensional. So too is the dialogue between Eve and Claudine. Broom and Castroverde give good performances given their cliche-heavy exchanges, but given the source material, a lot more depth could have been infused into character’s relationship, other than the poorly explained cruelty her mother displays towards Claudine. Oliva is a joy, however, adding a comic presence to the production, but some of her scenes with the mother and daughter, while amusing, seem out of left field. So while the performances are generally good, the script makes this production less than it could have been. For more info, go to: