The younger Rands, members of the first family of Middleburgh, New York, have taken a shine to the Big Apple. Cicely, the youngest, bleats, “Who wants to smell new-mown hay when he could smell gasoline on Fifth Avenue?” This line may baffle urban audiences enjoying the Metropolitan Playhouse’s revival of Clyde Fitch’s 1915 melodrama The City—after all, many of us spend considerable hours swooning over bargain fares and real estate listings in our efforts to abandon the metropolis. (New-mown hay sounds positively exotic!) But Manhattan’s attractions—the pace, the fashion, the opportunities for romance—and its dangers—the anonymity, the brittleness, the moral relativism—remain nearly unchanged.
Director Yvonne Conybeare hasn’t veiled the play’s lurid elements (incest, murder, drug addiction), yet she seems to find character more compelling than plot. She concentrates primarily on the ethical dilemmas of George Rand Jr. (Michael Hardart) as he struggles to keep his business and political career intact while fending off the imprecations of his con artist confidential secretary Hannock (played with smirking susurration by Andrew Firda). Though occasionally mannered, neither the performances nor the script prove too stiff. The works of Fitch—and indeed much of early-20th-century drama—rarely see the light of stage, but the Metropolitan provides a fine illumination.