NEW YORK - It's the classic competitive friendship: Kit and Mildred were pals since girlhood in Harrisburg, and both moved on to become well-known writers. Kit's novels sell OK, and are much respected; Mildred's are list-toppers, become movies, and no one ever called them literary.
Kit had lovers; Mildred had a child and a divorce, and the child, now in her teens, looks to Kit for mothering. Kit has turned into a worldly, play-it-as-it-lies woman; Mildred becomes more neurotic when she's not becoming more jealous.
It's Mildred's jealousy that threatens to part the lifelongers in Old Acquaintance, whose Broadway revival opened Thursday night in a Roundabout Theatre production. Mildred complains that although she has all the advantages of a great writing career, "you have all the fun." Kit responds that Margaret spends her "whole life counting my blessings."
John Van Druten wrote and set Old Acquaintance in 1940 - his later plays include I Remember Mama and Bell, Book and Candle - and he gave his characters all the now-quaint mannerisms of the day, the requisite shan'ts and dah-lings, the house staff to answer every whim, the social schedule to fill a calendar.
It's a classic drawing-room comedy - and oh, what drawing rooms! In Alexander Dodge's design, Kit's is awash in different-hued woods and tasteful down to the three carved masks on the wall. Mildred's rented apartment - she's come down from her country home to wrest her daughter, Deirdre, back from what she perceives as Kit's clutches - is all high ceilings, pink walls and white columns with rows of candles chiseled into the wood as bas relief. The sets, at the preview I attended, got applause.
Old Acquaintance is a likable play, as airy as cotton candy if only half as sweet. Michael Wilson (Enchanted April) directs it in its original three acts with two intermissions - a nice touch in these single-intermission days. The breaks add to the production's old feel, along with the clacking of typewriter keys to the theme music. (Just what is that sound anyway?, a younger theatergoer might ask while IMing between scenes.) David C. Woolard's fabulous costumes are on the money, right down to the pillbox and long-feathered hats.
The setup in Act I comes off as a little stilted - I heard several people at the first intermission wondering aloud whether anything would actually happen in this play, which I wondered myself. But as things heat up between Kit and Mildred in Acts II and III, the comedy becomes richer and so does the play.
Margaret Colin's Kit is a feet-on-the-ground, entirely endearing woman, and Harriet Harris delivers a Mildred whose success and bitterness are as visible as oil and water in the same glass. When Harris is mad, she chirps like a mean squirrel and looks like one, too; when it's not acceptable to show her feelings, she's all Social Register. The other leads - Diane Davis as the daughter and Corey Stoll as Kit's lover - form rounded characters. The play itself is rounded, in the old-fashioned way, with everything coming to tidy fruition - a little breath of clear summer air on Broadway.
Written by John Van Druten, directed by Michael Wilson, sets by Alexander Dodge, costumes by David C. Woolard, lighting by Rui Rita. Presented by Roundabout Theatre Company.
Cast: Margaret Colin (Kit), Harriet Harris (Mildred), Diane Davis (Deirdre), Corey Stoll (Rudd).
Playing at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42d St., New York, through Aug. 19. Tickets: $51.25-$86.25. Information: 212-719-1300 or www.roundabouttheatre.org.
Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro.