Backstage: Studio Theatre to take on 'Solid Gold Cadillac'

ON THE MONEY TRAIL: Nancy Robinette as the shareholder.
ON THE MONEY TRAIL: Nancy Robinette as the shareholder. (Alex Jaeger)
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By Jane Horwitz
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nancy Robinette and Michael Goodwin take on a corrupt corporation in "The Solid Gold Cadillac," and in the process become a sort of pre-Neil Simon odd couple. The 1953 Broadway comedy by George S. Kaufman and Howard Teichmann will get a new production at Studio Theatre, which begins performances Dec. 2.

"Cadillac" is the second of three "money plays" in Studio's season. Besides "Cadillac," the offerings include the just-closed "Adding Machine: A Musical" and David Mamet's "American Buffalo," next spring.

Last Friday before a rehearsal, Goodwin and Robinette discussed their respective characters. Robinette plays Laura Partridge -- a semi-retired actress who attends a stockholders' meeting of the behemoth General Products Corporation of America. She owns only 10 shares but manages to turn the company's arrogant executives on their collective ears by asking a few pertinent -- or impertinent -- questions. Goodwin, meanwhile, plays the company's former president and board chairman, Edward McKeever, who has taken a government job in Washington and steadfastly refuses to toss juicy contracts to his old company. The play's wry narrator refers to McKeever as "Prince Charming" and to Partridge as "Cinderella."

Explained Robinette, Mrs. Partridge "sort of wanders into this world of business, I think, as just sort of a lark" and gradually evolves "from a good person with a good heart, and naive, to learning about the world and how it works." Mrs. Partridge, said the actress, has a high EQ -- emotional quotient. In other words, she reads people well. Robinette has been taken with the "refreshing simplicity" of the show's 1950s milieu and even the characters' good manners. "The more I work on this play, the more I appreciate the charm of the way they interact," she observed, adding, "It's fun just to do a pure comedy. It's a challenge."

To which Goodwin responded with the punch line from a hoary actors' joke: "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."

As an actor who often does dramatic roles (he played Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman" last summer), Goodwin credited "Cadillac" director Paul Mullins with helping him mine the laughs. Mullins "guides us very nicely, gently," Goodwin said. "I'm always prone to be reluctant to go way out there. . . . When you get to that being silly stuff, you don't know how far to take it."

Of his character McKeever, Goodwin said, "I think he's anything but Prince Charming. . . . He's a hard-driving business guy . . . then Mrs. Partridge comes along and touches his humanity." It's hands-off otherwise, though, as the duo, both of them past their spring-chicken years (Judy Holliday glammed up the Laura role in the 1956 Hollywood film), do not make a romantic match, though they do cause a scandal.

Director Mullins addressed the cast on the first day of rehearsal and recounted the oddball story of how playwrights Teichmann and Kaufman collaborated on "The Solid Gold Cadillac." You can find video of the address on YouTube.

Olney's 2010 season

Olney Theatre Center will produce an eight-play season in 2010. (It programs by the calendar year.) Artistic Director Jim Petosa says the bad economy has hit Olney, too, but the company is forging ahead.

"Ticket sales are okay. Subscriptions are okay. It's contributed income" that's shrinking, he says, referring to grants and donations. "We took our [production] budgets down by 10 to 15 percent. We're toughing it out like everybody and hoping for the best."

-- Olney, which winds up its 2009 season with "Camelot," running now, will launch its new season in February with William Inge's 1955 play, "Bus Stop" (Feb. 17-March 14), about passengers stranded at a diner. Actor/director/writer Austin Pendleton will direct.

-- "Da" (March 24-April 25), by Hugh Leonard, a memory play about a Dublin man recalling his adoptive father, will star Irish actor Des Keogh. Halo Wines will direct.

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