December 11, 2009 | by Patrick Folliard
A trip back in time in ‘Cadillac’

Best known for playing varied eccentrics and batty matrons, terrific local actor Nancy Robinette is at it again. This time it’s Mrs. Laura Partridge, an offbeat, seemingly insignificant, middle-aged woman who shakes up corporate America in The Studio Theatre’s revival of Howard Teichmann and George S. Kaufman’s 1953 hit comedy, “The Solid Gold Cadillac.”

A modern fairytale about the triumph of the little guy over big business, “Cadillac” undoubtedly resonates today. A minor but determined stockholder in General Products, Mrs. Partridge (who knows nothing about business and consults her horoscope before making a move) takes on some rather odious executives (David Sabin, James Slaughter, Paul L. Nolan, and Leo Erickson) with surprising results. While stymieing the fat cats at every turn, she rather unwittingly wins the support and attentions of the powerful, aging alpha male Edward L. McKeever (Michael Goodwin).

An out-of-work stage actor, Mrs. Partridge revels in the limelight that — again rather unwittingly — has come with her new mission. Robinette adds perfect measures of temper, innocence, determination and a sense of the dramatic in making her improbable heroine.

Like with TV’s “Mad Men,” it’s fun to time travel in “Cadillac” and experience the Dictaphone, cigars at the workplace, and outrage at the chairman of the board’s astronomical $175,000 annual salary. But the most glaringly dated aspect of the more than half-century old comedy is its attitude toward the central character’s age. In her early 50s, Mrs. Partridge is referred to as an “old lady,” and is considered a viable candidate for a retirement home in the country. Wonder how that sits with Studio’s typically senior-heavy audiences?

This “Cadillac” is meticulously designed and well acted. Alex Jaeger is spot-on with the early Eisenhower era corporate drag, and James Kronzer’s classy revolving set magically transforms into various offices. Erik Trester’s sound and projections are first rate. The entire cast is very fine. Laura Dunlop and Russell Jonas are assets as the young, romantically involved office underlings.

Still, there are problems: Director Paul Mullins might have goosed-up the first act — the pacing drags and the laughs suffer. McKeever’s dramatic recitation feels endless and the vintage-looking pseudo news footage featuring local TV news personalities is fun, but less would be more. Overall, the second act is faster and more amusing.

While Robinette’s Partridge isn’t as memorable as her celebrated comic turn as the tone-deaf singing socialite Florence Foster Jenkins in Studio’s “Souvenir” a couple seasons back, it’s always a pleasure to watch a pro in action.

‘The Solid Gold Cadillac’
Through Jan. 10
The Studio Theatre
1501 14th St, NW
$42-$63
202-332-3300
www.studiotheatre.org

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