June 3 2015 01:09 PM

Drama surrounds a homely heiress

richgirl_web
Meg Gibson (left), Lauren Blumenfeld and JD Taylor in “Rich Girl”
Photo by Jim Cox

Take Henry James' short novel Washington Square, adapt it for the Lifetime ("Television For Women") network, and you'd have something like Victoria Stewart's play Rich Girl, now at the Old Globe's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre under the direction of James Vasquez. 

Well, at least the first act of the play, which has its teleplay way with the vagaries of the power-woman-mother/wallflower-daughter relationship and the timeworn question of love vs. money. The second act of Rich Girl, a retelling of James' story about a homely heiress with a tyrannical parent (in the novel, it's a father), ramps up the drama and becomes much more absorbing. 

The four-person cast is appropriately dominated by Meg Gibson in the role of a Suze Orman-typez, who is convinced her daughter Claudine (Lauren Blumenfeld) is being courted for her money by a freespirited but broke theater artist (JD Taylor). Credit the charismatic Gibson for the comic energy of Act 1 and the poignancy of Act 2. 

If you've read James' novella or seen the stage/screen adaptation, The Heiress, you'll know where Rich Girl is headed. How you feel when it gets there may depend on your affinity for Claudine, who, like her mom, can really get on your nerves. Rich Girl runs through June 21 at the Old Globe's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in Balboa Park. $29 and up. oldglobe.org.


Diversionary Theatre's final performance of its 2015 mini-season, A New Brain, is an ambitious musical production (a cast of 10, more than 30 songs) that more often than not hits the right notes. Composer William Finn (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) and librettist James Lapine (Into the Woods) wrote this 1998 musical about a kids' show songwriter who must undergo brain surgery. When A New Brain is good, as during moving tunes sung by Tom Zohar as the protagonist, Gordon Schwinn, and Sandy Campbell as his neurotic mother, it is very good indeed. When silliness intrudes, as it does on a few toocute numbers with props, A New Brain is just amusing. The ideal way to appreciate it as a whole is to imagine that everything on stage after Gordon's dire diagnosis is in his head, scatterings of life and memory, joys and fears that sometime make no sense. That's the marvel of the brain.

A New Brain runs through June 21 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. $29-$51. diversionary.org

Write to davidc@sdcitybeat.com.


OPENING

Becky Shaw: The Pulitzer Prize-nominated "anti-romantic dramedy" about the dark side of blind dates. Written by House of Cards writer and producer Gina Gionfriddo, it opens June 5 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill: Broadway vet Audra McDonald stars as Billie Holiday in this musical play based on one of the legendary singer's last performances. Presented by Ion Theatre, it opens June 5 at the URBN CNTR 4THE ARTS in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com

Lone Star and Laundry & Bourbon: Two one-act comedies that both take place in '70s Texas. Presented by Different Stages, it opens June 5 at The Hall at Swedenborg Church. differentstages.biz 

Mulatto: Langston Hughes' first full-length play tells the story of a southern plantation owner who refuses to recognize his bi-racial son as his own. It opens June 5 at Community Actor's Theatre in Rolando. communityactorstheatre.com 

Gridlock: A world premiere reading of a new play by Salomon Maya about a group of strangers that get to know each other a little too well during a traffic jam. Part of the San Diego Jewish Arts Festival, it happens June 6 at the Lyceum Space at San Diego Repertory Theatre. sdrep.org 

Sylvia: A comedic romp about a couple of emptynesters who adopt a dog only to find that their new pet causes them to confront underlying issues in their relationship. It opens June 6 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org 

Motown the Musical: The hit musical that tells the true story of music mogul Berry Gordy, who founded the famous Detroit label that launched the careers of Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and dozens more. Presented by Broadway San Diego, it opens June 9 at San Diego Civic Theatre. broadwaysd.com 

All Shook Up: A family-friendly musical comedy set in the '50s about a stranger trying to expose a small town to rock n' roll. Music by, well, who else? Opens June 10 at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. moonlightstage.com


NOW PLAYING

The Underground New Play Festival: UCSD undergraduate playwrights, actors and directors present five original short plays at this annual showcase. Through June 6 at the Arthur Wagner Theatre at UCSD. theatre.ucsd.edu

Bingo: Hijinks ensue in this musical about three friends trying to make it to an annual celebration honoring the creator of the card-and-numbers game. Presented by PowPAC Community Theatre, it runs through June 7 at the PowPAC Theatre in Poway. powpac.org

Last Chance Romance: Sam Bobrick's comical romp about a thirty-something woman desperate to get married at any cost. Through June 7 at Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa.

Singin' in the Rain: The musical production of the beloved movie about the early days of sound film. Yes, it will rain onstage. Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it runs through June 7 at Spreckels Theatre in Downtown. sdmt.org

Arms and the Man: Often considered George Bernard Shaw's most romantic comedy, this play centers on a young Bulgarian woman who gets caught up in a love triangle during the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885. Through June 14 at The Old Globe in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org

The Whale: The San Diego premiere of the Off-Broadway hit about a 600-pound recluse desperately trying to reconnect with his daughter before he eats himself to death. Through June 14 at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town. cygnettheatre.com

Wrenegades: An Ecological Adventure: A new production about a depressed man struggling to save an endangered bird told through music, puppetry and dance. Presented by Circle Circle dot dot, it runs through June 19 at La Jolla Playhouse. circle2dot2.com

Everybody's Talkin': The Music of Harry Nilsson: A world premiere musical about the highly influential, but still relatively obscure singer-songwriter. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through June 21 at the Lyceum Stage in the Gaslamp. sdrep.org

A New Brain: A musical about a young composer rushing to create his masterpiece after learning he has a fatal brain disease. It runs through June 21 at Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest. diversionary.org 

Rich Girl: A new play about a wealthy mother and daughter and the gentleman caller who comes between them. Based on the novel, Washington Square, by Henry James, it runs through June 21 at The Old Globe in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org


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