By Dale King
Florida Atlantic University’s Department of Theatre and Dance has launched its two-play Festival Rep summer series with Sabrina Fair, a captivating mid-20th century romantic comedy.
The play features delightful performances by FAU Class of 2020 master of fine arts students along with a couple of Actors Equity players who give them a taste of the real-world stage.
Elegantly written by Samuel Taylor and first performed on Broadway in the early 1950s (and made into the iconic 1954 Audrey Hepburn vehicle Sabrina), this clever depiction of upper-class foibles and frequent silly hyperboles is engaging and funny as the plot takes surprising twists and turns.
At the same time, a love story blossoms as the play maintains its concentration on high-end Long Island society mores circa 1951. Offstage, the cast sees a marina filled with yachts as they traverse the finely decorated garden with columns, trellises and other mansion-esque accoutrements – all smartly captured in the stage setting so well-crafted by K. April Soroko.
As life unfolds, the well-to-do family must deal with such unseemly crises as: Should the man of the house drive himself to a funeral or wait for the tardy chauffeur to return?
Playwright Taylor got the name “Sabrina Fair” from John Milton’s Comus (1634), a fact that doesn’t go unnoticed by the play’s characters as flirtations begin setting in as familiarity reigns.
The lead character, Sabrina Fairchild (superbly portrayed by Caroline Dopson) is the daughter of a chauffeur (Ryan Page) long employed by the wealthy Larrabee family, which resides in the stylish manor.
Having grown up there, the generally overlooked Sabrina has seen, but not felt, the largesse that’s all around her. She travels to Paris where she earns recognition for her work in a government office. She returns to the U.S. a beautiful, learned and incredibly sophisticated young woman — unlike the car driver’s daughter who had been an overlooked fixture at the estate.
As most characters feared, she is now a changed woman – and quickly declares her desire “to do everything and see everything.” Alas, what is a filthy rich family supposed to do with an ingénue whose head has been so turned?
Although she once had a crush on the Larrabee’s jovial, youthful playboy son, David (Alec Kalled), she returns from Paris with a wealthy French suitor (Christian Mouisset) in tow.
If that weren’t enough, she soon finds herself drawn to David’s bookish older brother, Linus (Kevin Moxley), whose brooding, business-focused demeanor seems to stimulate her. The siblings become rivals after Sabrina’s overseas suitor becomes more interested in the Larrabee’s business holdings than holding Sabrina.
The newly enlivened young lady’s interest in the Larrabee boys does not go over well with their well-heeled parents (Equity actors Philip Chaffin and Jeanne Bennett) or with her own father. It seems no one thinks the daughter of the hired help, no matter how educated and sophisticated she is, should marry one of the employers’ sons.
Every performer in Sabrina Fair deserve plaudits, particularly the woman in the lead role. Dopson already established herself as a force on stage in Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, the production that opened the 2018-2019 theater season at FAU. She finishes as strongly as she started.
Moxley’s Linus mixes charm with just a tad of conceit and a hint of cad. Kalled portrays David with the same element of charm as big brother, but with a more comfortable – and comforting – level of comfort. He seems unfazed by the rigors of the finale.
Chaffin and Bennett fit right in as the elder Larrabees. Portraying Linus Sr., Chaffin gets to fire off some witty lines. He seems delightfully unaffected by the antics happening around him.
Bennett portrays Maude Larrabee with true motherly magnetism. She dotes on her family and their accomplishments, but has a special fondness for David.
Jean-Louis Baldet directs this charming slice of the rich life, and costume designer Dawn Shamburger creates a multitude of stunning formal and casual outfits.
Sabrina Fair runs through June 22 at the Studio One Theatre on FAU’s Boca Raton campus. Tickets are $27 at www.fauevents.com. Group and package tickets are available at 561-297-6124.