Unseen love

Romance wins out in witty Sabrina Fair

Sabrina (Cassi Crowley) and the flirtatious Larabee brother, David (Daniel Morin).

Sabrina (Cassi Crowley) and the flirtatious Larabee brother, David (Daniel Morin).

Photo by Black Cat Photography

Sabrina Fair shows Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, 2 p.m., through July 31 at Chico Theater Company.
Tickets: $14-$18
Chico Theater Company
166 Eaton Road, suite F
In its early scenes, Samuel A. Taylor’s play Sabrina Fair seems to be an innocuous romantic-comedy, a lightweight Cinderella tale from the 1950s. By the time it’s over, however, it’s become surprisingly droll and sophisticated, with main characters who often defy stereotype and convention.

It was a hit on Broadway, running for 318 performances. Subsequently, it was made into two successful movies, one in 1954 and a remake in 1995, though both deviated from Taylor’s original plot in significant ways.

The play, which opened last Friday (July 15) at Chico Theater Company, is set in the wealthy Larrabee family’s mansion overlooking Long Island Sound in 1955. It begins with the unexpected return after a long absence of Sabrina Fairchild (Cassi Crowley), the daughter of the family’s longtime chauffeur, Tom Fairchild (Justin McDavitt).

As a child, Sabrina lived with her widower father above the garage, kept apart from the Larrabees by class differences. They paid little attention to her, but she watched them with fascination, climbing trees for a better view and falling in love with David Larrabee, the playboy of the family.

For the past five years, Sabrina has been living in Paris and working for the U.S. government in some significant capacity. She has grown up and become a sophisticated young woman who embraces life with irresistible enthusiasm. She’s returned in part to explore her feelings for David, but also to show the Larrabees that she’s no longer the shy, unformed girl they remember.

There’s another brother, Linus Larrabee Jr. (Steve Jungen), who is everything David is not—disciplined, unsentimental, knowledgeable—which is why he now is CEO of Larrabee Industries. By the end of the first of two acts, it has become fairly obvious that the true romance in this tale is between Linus and Sabrina, and the fun is in watching these two hard-headed realists acknowledge their romantic natures and find each other.

The play is subtitled “A Woman of the World,” and it wouldn’t be a stretch to call it a “feminist” play. Sabrina refuses to buy into the prevailing gender roles, and the same can be said of Linus.

It’s also a play about class. To Linus’ parents, Linus Sr. and Maude, the idea that one of their sons might marry the daughter of one of their servants is anathema. As the song goes, however, “The times, they are a-changing.”

At the heart of the play are two witty, flirtatious colloquies between Sabrina and Linus, verbal dances during which they challenge each other like equals, questioning their philosophies of life and love. They don’t yet know they’re falling in love, but the audience does.

These long and tricky scenes operate on two or more levels at once, and Crowley and Jungen handled them pretty well on opening night, given the complexities and the number of lines they had. There were times when I wished they’d slow down and let moments of silence speak for them, but overall they succeeded in showing why these two characters were right for each other, despite their differences.

Several of the other cast members did good work, too. John Los was terrific as the blustery Linus Sr., whose favorite pastime is attending funerals, and Sandy Huseth was a strong figure as his wife, Maude, the matriarch of the family. J.J. Hunt brought creativity to her role as Aunt Julia, a long-time family friend who serves as a commentator on the action, and Daniel Morin was pleasantly loveable as the frivolous David.