Playwright: Preston Sturges
At: American Theater Company,
1909 W. Byron
Phone: (773) 929-1031; $25-$30
Runs through: May 23
One word kept running through my mind once Strictly Dishonorable got underway at American Theater Company: delightful. There are a lot of one-word summations that can be applied to various shows around town: but delightful has a special home here.
Written by Preston Sturges back in the 1920s before he turned his creative eye on Hollywood, Strictly Dishonorable became the toast of Broadway in the latter half of the decade, just before the Great Depression. And with good reason: Sturges' script (bearing little of the characteristic zaniness one might associate with his better known screenplays, like Sullivan's Travels) is a charming love story, spiked with incisive social commentary, and a healthy disrespect for pretentiousness in any form. Strictly Dishonorable is a classic in the sense that, after more than 80 years, its dialogue, characters, and situations remain fresh and compelling.
Credit ATC director Damon Kiely for an inspired and polished production. Deftly paced, the production catches the audience up in its story of one of Manhattan's many Prohibition-era speakeasies and the blossoming love between a transplanted Southern belle named Isabelle (Molly Glynn) and a romantic, Caruso-inspired tenor (Ansa Akeya). Glynn's Isabelle is a highlight of the show. Not only does she do a very credible Tennessee accent, she adroitly paints a portrait of an innocent young woman on the brink of discovering herself, in spite of her horse's-ass-upper-crust suburban fiancé (accomplished work from Jonathan Pereira). In a cast full of men, Glynn shines by virtue of more than her sex; she is also an actress who knows how to captivate with a shy smile and a simple gesture. Kiely does good work here with a fine ensemble who are to be credited for their solid dialect work, whether it's a Sicilian waiter or an Irish beat cop, they're all right on target.
Strictly Dishonorable was probably quite shocking in its day, with its blatant treatment of sexual attraction, illegal drinking, and its nose-thumbing at social conventions such as women being powerful and independent spirits. Even though the messages no longer shock, they continue to resonate and make sense today.
The word vintage gets applied to a lot of things these days, but it works particularly well for ATC's latest outing, if one defines vintage as something that has only grown more charming with age. Damon Kiely and his fine cast have unearthed a rare gem and polished it 'til it shines.