We gave it a C-
Samson Raphaelson’s dusty yarn about a middle-aged playwright juggling his new show and the adoration of his much younger secretary may have been a ripe screwball comedy when it debuted on Christmas Day in 1934, but 75 years later, Accent on Youth looks every bit its age. Tony-winning director Daniel Sullivan (Proof) opts for the original’s 1930s sensibility, challenging a contemporary audience with feeble attempts at provocation and an antiquated representation of love.
Ironically, the one aspect of the production that hints of youth is the one character who least requires it. David Hyde Pierce (the Spamalot veteran returning to Broadway for the first time since his Tony-winning turn in the musical Curtains) gamely plays Steven Gaye, the ambivalent bachelor writer more attached to his work than any woman. But Hyde Pierce’s preternatural boyishness distracts from his effort to play a weary ”man of the world.” There’s good reason that previous cinematic adaptations of the play starred Clark Gable and Bing Crosby, men whose very countenance suggested a well-worn life. Hyde Pierce possesses other gifts — his comic timing is as sharp as ever — but he can’t shake the aura of a younger brother.
As Gaye’s neglected assistant who inspires him with a desperate declaration of love, Mary Catherine Garrison (The Man Who Came to Dinner) endures her character’s dramatic transformation, especially since the script makes her Linda seem practically bipolar. Initially, Linda is the only adult in a room of childish thespians, but when she joins them in the theater, she too becomes a fool. By the time her devotion to Gaye is complicated by feelings for an age-appropriate actor (David Furr), you’ve never seen a love triangle so square.
Gaye solemnly concludes that ”There’s no fool like an old playwright,” but he’s in fine company. Minus the taboo that once accompanied a May-September romance, the characters’ whiplash swoons seem irritatingly arbitrary, and the play’s humor becomes more corny than clever. A less literal adaptation may have fared better, but as is, Accent on Youth is the rare romantic frolic that is all head and no heart. C?
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)