Sterling Playmakers Launches Original Romantic Comedy, “The Social Secretary”
In Newport, Rhode Island, it’s 1894, at the height of the Golden Age, and Social Secretary Clara Rutherford (Michelina Pollini) is interviewing potential clients. She is ambushed by Elijah Boyd (Riley Mulvihill), a bachelor with an unorthodox proposition. Elijah, who goes by the name of Eli, is a self-made man with an abundance of fresh cash and he is determined to become a member of the illustrious “Four Hundred” – the crème de la crème of Newport aristocracy. The problem is, he’s anything but fancy and not only does he know next to nothing about the customs and courtesies of the super-rich; those he knows, he seems determined to flout. He will pay Clara any sum to become his social secretary. Then begins a classic story reminiscent of a gender exchange My beautiful lady.
Fans of Downton abbey and those close to him will revel in the double but intersecting stories of the bourgeois above and the servants below. Ellen Price (who both wrote and directed the series) has no shortage of pikes for the absurdity of high life. The poignant and timeless moments of the story emerge in large part through the character of Eli. As a man of fortune and the son of Scottish immigrants, he never forgets his humble beginnings and, in the height of a recession, hires more servants than a family could ever need. It is a reminder to all that those who have means are in a unique position to help those who do not; it is simply a question of character. What it means to be a good person and what matters most in life are strong themes throughout the series.
The costumes of Judith Harmon, Mikayla Kirr and Lori Crockett immediately stand out. Each member of this 30-person cast was dressed to impress with elaborate costumes, a rainbow of summery colors, and consistent looks among the minions. Another technical feature is the backdrop for the set by set designers Ellen Price and Scott Ruegg and set artist Terry DiMurro. The incredibly bright, two-dimensional backdrop on a useful platform struck a chord for this romantic storybook comedy, immediately lending itself to upstairs and downstairs living spaces to intensify conflict. class.
Unfortunately, this smart set was underutilized. A lot of time was spent opening and closing the curtains and moving sets larger than necessary for often very short vignettes. Simple changes in lighting could just as easily have indicated changes in location. Lighting designer and operator Joe Pecsi would have been more than up to the task based on the seamless execution of the current design. Either way, hats off to stage manager Joe Campanella and stage crew Geoff Hardy and Ryan Hiese for orchestrating and performing this feat.
Pretty much everyone in this great ensemble had one or more milestone moments, and it would be impossible to list them all. Highlights include indefatigable Caitlin Costello (Beth) and Courtney Garofolo (Kate), who were a continuing source of evil delights as they sailed audiences through the latest gossip. Stuart Fischer (Simpson) and Sally Flores (Mrs. Peters) have played each other well as caring but still knowledgeable heads of families, providing one of the most intriguing moments in the play when they remind us of those over. 30 year olds are still interested in romance. Anthony Pohl as dance teacher Nikolay Kotov was a stage thief every time he waltzed on stage.
Using Price’s script, Pollini and Mulvihill constructed divergent but engaging portraits of two independent and self-taught people who find their way into a world where they are strangers. Clara de Pollini was still level-headed and serene, providing a clear contrast to Mulvihill’s high-energy pounding of the characters and audience. Their romance was both humorous and touching.
Those who aren’t ready for the end of summer will find warmth, love and laughter in this new storyline from a playwright. The social secretary is a romantic beach read that comes to life thanks to Sterling Playmaker’s triumphant return to the theater.
Duration: Two hours and 30 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
The social secretary plays through October 24, 2021 at the Theater at Seneca Ridge, 98 Seneca Ridge Dr, Sterling, VA. For tickets ($ 15 general admission), buy them at the door or buy them in line.
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