Romance, fairytale transformations and a peek into the lives of the uber rich – this show has everything you need to leave the mid-winter blahs behind. Director Venetia Lawless brings Samuel Taylor’s, romantic comedy Sabrina Fair to the Ottawa Little Theatre stage. I am consistently impressed by the talent of Ottawa’s amateur theatre community and this production is no exception. A show of this calibre doesn’t come together without a real love for the craft, something this cast and crew display in abundance.
Sabrina Fair takes us to the 1950s on the North Shore of Long Island. Just as in the Great Gatsby, the North Shore is a fantasy of wealth: sprawling gardens, cocktail parties, fleets of cars and lots of sailing. And though the opening scene introduces us to the Larabee family and their privileged lifestyle, the story that unfolds is that of Sabrina Fairchild, the chauffeur’s daughter.
Having grown up on the Larabee property Sabrina spends a great deal of time watching and wishing for bigger things. The play picks up just as she is about to return home from five years in Paris. Remembered by the Larabees as a “scholarly little mouse,” Sabrina bounds back into their quiet life transformed into “someone who has something to say about everything.” She takes everyone by surprise, declaring her wish “to do everything and see everything, sense everything . . . to be in the world, and of the world, and never stand aside and watch.”
It’s not long before vivacious Sabrina is troubling the water as both Larabee brothers take notice of her. Early in the play one character remarks that there are “more servants than people” at the Larabee house, aptly summing up the order of things. Comedy bubbles up from the tension between social classes and expected roles. You may be familiar with the general plot line from the two Sabrina film versions, the 1954 Hepburn and Bogart version or the 1995 Harrison Ford feature. If you do though, don’t expect a faithful rendition of either of those movies. Samuel Taylor’s original 1953 script is a more innocent and straightforward story.
The actors’ crack timing brings the clever script to life and the audience to laughter throughout the show. Jane Chambers (Sabrina) and Josh Sparks (Linus Jr.) share a strong chemistry, with worried looks of yearning saying so much more than their lines. Cheryl Jackson also stands out with a tough, tell-it-like-is portrayal of Larabee family friend, Julia McKlinock. Unfortunately, the cockatoo playing Maurice was in a foul mood opening night and will hopefully find his stride for the other performances.
Graham Price’s set design brought applause as the curtain opened on a beautiful garden behind the Larabee mansion with the water of North Shore Sound in the distance. The audience’s experience of the Larebee’s life is much like Sabrina’s, we get a sense of it in seeing the house and yard but we’re not invited inside. A small point perhaps, but Sabrina’s costuming was uneven and could have spoken louder of her transformation into sophistication and elegance. The other characters were convincingly dressed elites but they don’t have as much to prove.
If you’re looking for a fun night out with clever dialogue and feel-good entertainment Sabrina Fair delivers.
Sabrina Fair runs at the Ottawa Little Theatre until March 7th. Tickets are $25, $22 for seniors, and $12 for students and can be purchased online or by calling 613-233-8948. For more information, click here.