Connecticut Theater

"Holiday"
The Elm Shakespeare Company, New Haven

Shakespearean companies are flourishing in Connecticut this summer, as theatergoers pack their picnic suppers and ensconce themselves in one of the many park settings. One fine example is the Elm Shakespeare Company in New Haven’s Edgerton Park. Though Shakespeare has disappeared from their menu, at least for this summer, the company offers a pleasant change of pace in Philip Barry’s “Holiday” and Moliere’s “The Imaginary Invalid.”

“Holiday,” as we recently discovered, proved to be a lightweight alternative to the classics, though not entirely lightweight. Barry’s play, set in New York before the crash of 1928, focuses on the idle rich. It profiles the enormously wealthy Seton family. The patriarch Edward Seton and his daughter Julia (the bad guys in this story) worship the pursuit of money—money for its own sake. The good guys are Seton’s other daughter Linda, his son Ned, and Johnny Case (Julia’s fiancé). The latter three feel that different life goals should be pursued, that the Seton family’s life style is stultifying and immoral.

Though money is the name of the game, Barry presents another more important theme—namely, the life choices between taking risks or playing it safe. Should one follow the conventional rules or strike out for new experiences? Unfortunately, the problem with this dated Barry play is that his protagonists are as trivial as his villains. The “good” people in the Seaton family are quite willing to live with Dad’s money, even while they disapprove of his values. Yes, they want something else—but that something else, for Ned, is alcoholism, and, for Linda, is the pursuit of fun. Only the protagonist Johnny Case appears to have higher goals.

Nonetheless, Elm Shakespeare’s handsome production, smoothly guided by Artistic Director James Andreassi, offers an entertaining, diverting evening. Barry’s dialogue is sprightly and amusing, though his lines would benefit from an all-round tightening. The company is blessed with veteran actor Alvin Epstein as the family patriarch, giving his predictably fine performance. In other feature roles both Tamara Hickey and Keely Baisden shine, while Eric Martin Brown offers an engaging portrayal of Ned. One would have hoped for more pizzazz in the actor who plays Johnny Case (Allyn Burrows)—supposedly the character whom both sisters adore. Best not to think of Cary Grant playing that role! Still, Case comes through with a solid performance (though occasionally blowing his lines).

All told, Elm Shakespeare Company is indeed a worthy addition to the outdoor theater scene this summer.

-- Irene Backalenick
August 25, 2009