The three acts of The Damask Cheek all take place in a drawing room – a “sitting room,” the program calls it. John Van Druten, the better-known of the piece's two playwrights (he wrote the play on which the musical Cabaret is based, as well as many other popular pieces in the 1930s and '40s) was born in Britain, though he moved to New York and became an American citizen. His co-author, Lloyd Morris, was an American writer and educator.
The Damask Cheek opened on Broadway in 1942, but I guess from the social attitudes expressed by the characters and by Jane Sullivan's handsome costumes for the ACT Inc. production that it takes place in the Edwardian era at the latest – a favorite era for ACT Inc. productions. The characters come from the upper levels of society, and speak accordingly. The cast, under the direction of Emily Robinson, handle the language well; it sounds natural, and it's a pleasure to hear literate speech spoken as they do.
They also handle the timing, the dramatic and comic rhythms, well.
Not that The Damask Cheek challenges them excessively in either regard. It's an entertaining but conventional story. You've met the characters before in various guises, but playwrights Van Druten and Morris craft their work well, and the cast plays it well.
Rhoda Meldrum is a wealthy, rather plain English woman getting to the age when spinsterhood looms as a serious threat. She's come to New York to visit her aunt, Mrs. Randall, and her aunt's three children. She has not, she insists, come to New York to find a husband. The others suspect otherwise.
Rachel Visocan gives us a self-possessed Rhoda of many charms, whatever her physical shortcomings. New York society's prize catch, played with suave persuasion by handsome Paul Cooper, finds himself fascinated by those charms. You are not surprised when his interest opens the eyes of Jimmy Randall, the oldest of Rhoda's cousins. He and Rhoda have known each other from childhood, and she's harbored a secret love for him almost that long. But he thinks he's in love with an attractive actress – not an attachment of which his mother, a woman of strict Victorian standards, approves.
In Eleanor Mullin's person, that mother dominates the sitting room whenever she is in it. As her son, Paul Edwards delineates both the character's weaknesses and strengths. Tasha Zebrowski and Zeke Bocklage have fun with the comic immaturity of his younger sister and brother, and Liz Hopefl zings the laughs as an older maiden lady of some connection to the family. Zoe Sullivan is smart as well as lovely as the actress, and Diane Peterson plays the family maid who knows first all that's going on.
ACT Inc. performs The Damask Cheek in the round in Fontbonne's theatre, with lights by Michael Sullivan, properties by Hopefl, sound by Sullivan, and well-fitted wigs for the women by Lori Renna. An odd tussle between Rhoda and the actress is choreographed by Mike Monsey.
If you're a fan of ACT Inc.'s kind of theatre, and many of us are, you'll enjoy The Damask Cheek.