By Thom deMartino
With friends like these, who needs enemies?
An assertive woman is not something new – though it has only been with the passage of time that they have been less feared or resented by the lingering patriarchal culture, one learning to appreciate the value of a strong, independent woman. In the Westminster Community Playhouse’s current run of “Old Acquaintance,” successful writer Katherine “Kit” Markham (Kimberly Wooldridge) is one such woman: at the top of her game in the late 1940’s publishing world, with a string of successes and another on the way.
Her personal life is an apparent success as well – including her relationships with her much younger beau, Rudd Kendall (Jeremy Krasovic), and her proxy daughter, Deirdre Drake (Grace O’Neill). Rudd is a strong kindred spirit and confidant to Kit, while Deirdre is the daughter that she never had, one eagerly learning how to be determined and independent.
And then, there is the young lady’s actual mother…
Mildred Watson Drake (Maria O’Connor) has been friends since childhood with Kit, though the modern nomenclature of “frenemy” might be more appropriate: while there is certainly a begrudging respect and affection between the two women, there’s a distinct one-upmanship between the pair, particularly on the part of “Millie.” She also harbors resentments towards her ex-husband, Deirdre’s father Preston Drake (Rick Werblin), incapable of understanding why he felt the need to part ways with her — something apparent to everyone else.
Even Rudd asks Kit why she still interacts with her temperamental friend: it seems that when Kit was young, she was virtually an orphan, and Millie was practically the only family she had — leaving her feeling loyal, if slightly indebted, to the moody socialite.
But as Kit is reticent to settle down with Rudd, and Deirdre is finding herself, the tensions beween Millie and… well, just about everyone else… might just finally come to a head…
For a story written in the 1940’s, “Old Acquaintance” is surprisingly progressive in its perspective on female empowerment: Kit relates to Deirdre that she is under no obligation to “settle down”, rejecting the cultural pressures and mores of the time (some of which carry over to the present day, of course.) Though she certainly feels great affection and closeness with Rudd, Kit is by no means going to let her relationship with him define her.
On the other side of the coin, it seems like Millie insists her relationships define her: to her daughter (that she resents somewhat for being closer to Kit), to her ex-husband (who she resents for leaving her), and to Kit herself (who she resents for … well, everything.) She is a gossip and desperate to be the constant center of attention – a “drama queen” in the fullest sense of the term. Her character would almost be difficult and frustrating to watch (as everyone has known someone like this in their lives), if not for O’Connor’s ability to play her with a faint tinge of sadness: as if she is almost conscious of her tendency to push her loved ones away, but is still incapable of stopping herself.
While the story itself can seem a bit dated, there are definitely some universal themes that the cast do an excellent job of exploring, including Wooldridge’s Kit’s confidence and agency in a male-dominated industry and culture, Krasovic’s Rudd’s inner conflict about his feelings and where the relationship is going, and O’Neill’s Deirdre’s determination to be her own woman, and not caught in the shadow of her mother, or even Kit.
There are only a few more performances of “Old Acquaintance” left at WCP, a story that’s a reminder that for as much as times have changed, as much as they stay the same.
“Old Acquaintance.” Kimberly Wooldridge, Grace O’Neill and Maria O’Connor star in this tale of 1940’s friendship, relationships and rivalry. Playing through Sunday, March 24 at the Westminister Community Playhouse, 7272 Maple St, Westminster, CA 92683. Ticketing information is available online at http://www.wctstage.org, or call 714-893-8626.
Categories: Arts & Leisure