Money is a never-ending issue: we crave it; hoard it; earmark it; contractually stipulate it. And when love is involved, it gets really weird — we may have to share. “Rich Girl” navigates these potent interrelationships. And though the play visits well-traveled ground, it somehow manages to stay on the good side of cliché.
Set in New York City, the show revolves around young Claudine (Lauren Blumenfeld), an oddly endearing misfit who is trying to earn her mother’s approval. The mother, Eve (Meg Gibson) is a larger-than-life TV financial host — Suze Orman without the annoying warmth. She earned her money the hard way (investing) and is trying to toughen up Claudine to put on the big boots, i.e. run the family foundation without giving away the farm.
Claudine — who has been beaten down so often she flinches at kindness — has been sent with Eve’s personal assistant, Maggie (Carolyn Michelle Smith), to meet a young theater director, Henry (JD Taylor), who’s asking for a grant.
Predictably, Claudine and Henry have instant chemistry and start to go out. And while the connection could seem irredeemably trite, Stewart pulls it off and even gets us rooting for the young lovers.
Eve is less than enthused. She reasons, perhaps a bit melodramatically, that a good looking man like Henry could hardly be interested in her sad sack daughter. He must be after the money.
This show shouldn’t work, particularly for a 21st Century audience, but it does and much of the credit goes to Stewart’s script, which is both funny and well-observed. She plays cliché Rubik’s Cube, turning the sides over just enough to make them fresh.
But it’s the ambiguity that drives the show. Is Henry after the money or does he really love Claudine? What about Eve? Is she protecting her daughter or herself? For the most part, the outstanding cast teeters between these possibilities. Gibson’s Eve is intimidating and a bit haughty. Everyone wants her approval, which she doles out in wafer-thin morsels. Smith also does a fine job as the sassy Maggie, who by her nature must mediate all disputes.
But the prize goes to Blumenfeld, who instills the gawky Claudine with a subtle strength that shows particularly well after intermission.
Vásquez’s direction is deft and fast-paced, and the video clips from Eve’s financial show set the stage and are quite hilarious. If I have a qualm, it’s that the play lingers ten seconds too long.
Well, we can’t have everything. “Rich Girl” is funny, insightful and occasionally poignant. If we were betting we’d call it a trifecta.