HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GEMINI -- West End Circle, Wheaton 2, Carrolton 4, White Flint 3, Springfield 2, Cinema 7 at Bailey's Crossroads.
Social climbing has been a favorite subject for comic plays for centureis, but Albet Inaurato's "Gemini," which has been made into a film called "Happy Birthday, Gemini," does it differently for our times.
The direction in which his climbers are awkardly attempting to go is down. Fooled by the seeming equality conferred by blue jeans and backpacks, a rich WASP brother and sister drop in unexpectedly at vacation time on a Harvard classmate whose father is an Italian-American butcher in a South Philadelphia neigh borhood full of assorted ethnic crazies.
The play, which Washingtonians saw at Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater, was enormously funny. The scholarship student is neither embarrassed nor thrilled to see people he doesn't mind associating with at school but who will never fit in at his social level. And they, dazzled by the slef-assured exuberance of this circle, keep trying in vain to seem at ease.
Some of this survives in the movie. Madeline Kahn, as the lustful Bunny Weinberger, mother of an asthmatic genius who collects transfers; Rita Moreno, as the father's fastidious girl friend who won't take a portion of spaghetti because she's not hungry, but "picks" from everyone else's plate; Alan Rosenberg as Frank Geminiani, the exasperated host-student; David Marshall Grant as his anxious friend -- they are all right for their parts.
But the parts have been laden down, like collegiate conversation, with a lot of pseudo-philosophy. Writer-director Richard Benner, in attampting to deepen the work, has put a hole into its premise.
He added scenes in which Bunny's ex-husband plaintively describes her as a refreshingly young spirit who just needs to grow up; Frank's father wonders how much he and his friends miss out on in life because they don't tell others how they feel; and the neighborhood elders all agree that one's sexual preferences don't really matter as long as one is sincere.
The comic point of the original work was that in Frank's class, people go out and live, unburdened with all the tedious soul-searching and banal explanations of the educated classes, which Frank has been unhappily acquiring. To suggest that the neighborhood would improve from the psychological lessons of little crew-necked-sweatered rich kids, rather than the other way around, is to re-invert the cleverly inverted class structure that gave the idea its original humorous twist.