A new romance between a struggling young man and a complicated young woman becomes a colossal crisis in “Rich Girl,” now playing at The Old Globe Theatre.
Claudine’s (Lauren Blumenfeld) mother, Eve (Meg Gibson), is a well-off financial manager who even has her own TV show. She’s savvy about most everything until Claudine falls in love with someone she barely knows, and Eve is certain he only wants her money.
Eve’s not too keen on men as her husband left her eight months pregnant with Claudine and she’s worked very hard to get where she is. Because Claudine has some quirky deficiencies, it’s been even harder. Claudine has a position in Eve’s Foundation, but it’s mostly in name only.
When Claudine runs into Henry (JD Taylor), a former college schoolmate, she’s surprised at his friendly attentiveness. Henry is director of a floundering theater company in need of some backing. After Claudine brings him home, Eve is on him like a flea on a dog. She tells her daughter Henry only likes her because he hopes to get some money out of their friendship.
But Henry is not put off by Eve, and before she can slam the door behind him, he and Claudine are spending more and more time together. This delights Eve’s assistant and almost family member, Maggie (Carolyn Michelle Smith). She’s far more nurturing to Claudine than her own mother, and encourages Claudine to keep seeing Henry.
Christmas arrives and Henry proposes and wants to get married right away in Las Vegas. Eve plays a trump card to separate the two lovebirds — a long awaited trip to Africa for herself and Claudine to tour their foundation beneficiaries. She privately orders Maggie to investigate Henry.
When the girls return home it’s a pity party for Claudine, a swift out-of-the-picture for Henry and a big heartbreak for Maggie.
One could call Stewart’s “Rich Girl,” an update on the classic Henry James’ novel “Washington Square,” and film, “The Heiress,” but now the plot unfolds in modern times and both sides of the conflict are surely felt by the audience.
The cast is superb. Gibson shines on those TV shots as Eve, and maintains her harsh disappointment with her daughter so well it occasionally hurts. Smith is equally good as a woman who knows she can only go so far in helping Claudine because Eve’s evil stares warn Maggie that she could be dismissed at any time.
Taylor plays Henry so cryptically we don’t know – is he really schmoozing Claudine just to get her mother’s money? Blumenfeld has the hardest role. Sporting neon-bright fuchsia-colored hair and struggling not to drop or break anything or make a fool of herself, Claudine is lost in a wilderness she thinks she understands, but doesn’t, all the while trying desperately to be “normal.” During the time she really has to stand up to obligations it’s an amazing performance.
The simple, elegant set design validates this story and watching Gibson on the TV giving the audience financial advice lends a great credibility to the plot. Playgoers will enjoy the story and the acting, along with the challenge of deciding each character’s true motivations.