“The Awful Truth,” a comedy written for the stage nearly a century ago by Arthur Richman, mothballed for years except for a Hollywood revival in the 1930’s and a movie musical version decades later - “Let’s Do It Again,” with Jane Wyman and Ray Milland - is the kind of play that Irish Classical Theatre Company does best. Costumed to the nines, classy set pieces, witty repartee, the sexes doing battle, foolish people, fibs, machinations, love eventually conquering all. ICTC has mastered the formula.
Not to say that every one of these screwball comedies works perfectly. “The Awful Truth,” for example, talks incessantly through its opening act, its audience hoping that setup looms for later hi-jinx - a la previous hits such as “Private Lives” or an Oscar Wilde classic.
The ingredients are there: Lucy Warriner, here petulant, there plotting - she’s also broke and feeling the pinch - is entertaining a rich oil man from Oklahoma, Dan, who calls her “one of God’s good women.” Lucy’s ex-husband, Norman, arrives to reluctantly tout his former mate’s charms. Ah, this will be good, you think. Dan’s has brought a stern, no-nonsense, Wildean aunt along. Act One ends with some promise.
Disappointment. More talk, Lucy continues to alternate being a coquette or a shrew. Norman reminds her that she is still “delightfully unredeemable.” Dan and his tsk-tsking aunt have doubts and an old boyfriend arrives to get a long-time rumor mill going again.
These are all earmarks of the cinematic screwball comedy genre of the 1930’s - Clark Gable, Carol Lombard, William Powell, Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Arthur, Cary Grant/Irene Dunne of “The Awful Truth.” There’s a dominating female, a hapless guy who hangs around, is booted out, returns, more than likely saying, as Norman does in “The Awful Truth,” “I don’t care if it’s true! I love you!” Cary Grant became a huge star after his Norman star-turn.
ICTC's Fortunate Pezzimenti loves this play, so much so that he traveled to one of his favorite haunts, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, to try to find the script. No luck on that, but an old microfilm copy of the play was unearthed. “The Awful Truth,” on the ICTC’s radar for years, was on its way at last to Buffalo.
Pezzimenti has assembled a handsome cast and they give the story their all: Diane Curley oozes chutzpah as Lucy, with cracks in the armor finally convincingly appearing; Adriano Gatto, as Norman; the evolving Eric Rawski, Zak Ward, Maura Nolan, Marisa Caruso, Chris Kelly - stellar as a one-time Lucy beau - and a true Western New York doyenne, Ellen Horst, complete the cast. Strong ensemble work is an ICTC given.
In the end, “The Awful Truth” charms, not as situationally funny as its premise seems to promise, and it’s certainly not as screwball as its movie counterpart. Good it is, though, marvelously acted, lovingly directed, and long overdue on a Buffalo stage.
"The Awful Truth" by Irish Classical Theatre Company
Rating: 3 stars (out of 4).
Where: The Andrews Theatre, 625 Main St.
When: Through May 13. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays.