Dishonorable Recharge: Preston Sturges Deserves Better

Dishonorable Recharge: Preston Sturges Deserves Better
Leah Caddigan
Keilly McQuail in Strictly Dishonorable, directed by Laura Braza, at The Flea Theater in Tribeca.

"I've always been sensible and good," cries Isabelle Parry (Keilly McQuail), a Southern belle getting her first taste of the wicked big city.

Now our ingenue just wants to drink old-fashioneds, free of her boorish but "honorable" fiancé (Thomas Christopher Matthews), who insists that she live a churchgoing life in New Jersey. Over the course of this boozy evening, she has to choose: suburban hell or a life of speakeasies and jazz with a soulful, opera-loving Italian bachelor (Michael Labbadia)? Good wife or bad girl?

Like many rich dramas from this cocktail-soused era, Preston Sturges's 1929 Strictly Dishonorable is an overlooked gem, all too rarely staged. (It inspired two film versions — one in 1931 with Sidney Fox and a 1951 remake starring Janet Leigh.) True, Sturges pays a lot of attention to the pouring of drinks and to the buffoonish comings and goings of secondary characters. But the playwright hits the moral bull's-eye, celebrating an America where supposedly dissolute outsiders hold far more integrity than prudes who proclaim their rectitude.

Alas, Attic Theater's lumbering revival, directed by Laura Braza, won't convert many to Sturges's screwball comedy. The staging lacks the needed rhythmic precision (especially in the first act at the bar), and the principals are not convincingly conflicted. Still, dusting off this vintage script ought to count as an honorable deed in itself.

 
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