'New Year's Eve'

A great deal of champagne is poured but the fizz is in short supply in "New Year's Eve."

A great deal of champagne is poured but the fizz is in short supply in “New Year’s Eve,” the latest play from indefatigable nonagenarian Arthur Laurents. The George Street Playhouse premiere follows Laurents’ directorial outings on the Broadway revivals of his scripted tuners “Gypsy” and “West Side Story,” but this production looks to generate considerably less fanfare.

The urbane comedy focuses on the various intimacies of a theatrical family. It’s a rather dry affair spiced with brittle chit-chat and some glam posturing. Marlo Thomas is top-billed as Isabel, an aging stage star and less-than-lethal Margo Channing, married to a successful bisexual playwright (Keith Carradine) who’s having an openly torrid affair with family accountant Justin (Peter Frechette). Seemingly threatened with a serious illness, Justin confesses to an affair with a male therapist he met in the waiting room of Sloan-Kettering.

Natasha Gregson Wagner is the couple’s daughter Samantha, an unwed mother and self-described “soap opera queen” about to make her stage debut. Soon acclaimed as a rising star, she engages in a quick “but intense” hotel tryst with her unseen director, an older married man with two children.

The characters are superficial but keenly drawn by a flavorful cast. Laurents’ hard-edge writing style surfaces distinctively despite an erratic plotline that leaves too many avenues unexplored.

Thomas is vibrant in an underfleshed role, and she does manage to toss off some brittle bull’s-eye one-liners. Wagner, who bears a startling resemblance to her late mom, Natalie Wood, makes a vivacious fledgling star. Carradine gives a slick account of the promiscuous scribe, and Frechette is earnest as the personally enmeshed business manager.

Director David Saint stages the play with a focus on the smooth flow of small talk. Despite the shortage of sparks, the action moves with sure purpose; scene changes are accompanied by Gershwin piano interludes.

There’s an Oscar on the mantle and a large Hirschfeld-like caricature of our hosts in James Youmans’ slick revolving set design. The ladies appear in Suzy Benzinger’s stylish threads, from evening wear to silky pajamas. Actually, it all looks delicious; the only thing missing is some real bite in the pillow talk.

New Year's Eve

George Street Playhouse, New Brunswick, N.J.; 360 seats; $66 top

Production

A George Street Playhouse presentation of a play in two acts by Arthur Laurents. Directed by David Saint.

Creative

Set, James Youmans; costumes, Suzy Benzinger; lighting, Joe Saint; sound, Christopher J. Bailey; production stage manager, Thomas Clewell. Opened, reviewed April 17, 2009. Runs through May 10. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.

Cast

Isabel - Marlo Thomas Gil - Keith Carradine Justin - Peter Frechette Samantha - Natasha Gregson Wagner Mikey - Walter Belenky
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