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Review: 'Second Girl' aims for but doesn't achieve drama of 'Downton'

T. Charles Erickson

​​“The Second Girl,” the Huntington Theatre Company's latest, takes place in the kitchen of the Tyrone family from Eugene O’Neill’s classic play “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Unfortunately for those of us relegated to watching playwright Ronan Noone’s saga of the family’s domestics, all of the compelling drama happens in O’Neill’s story.

Unlike their employer, the kitchen help and chauffeur are little more than one-dimensional stock characters played by talented actors doing their very best with no dramatic arc and a wisp of a plot. They each speak of their American dream, but the obstacles appear to be too daunting for them to attain it.

The pedestrian story might be entertaining if the characters were engaging, funny or even dark and twisted. But these three are just dull and predictable, the complete antithesis of the enthralling folks from TV’s “Downton Abbey” or “Upstairs, Downstairs.”

It doesn’t help that James Ingalls’ lighting design sometimes leaves the audience straining to see. Sure, you’re trying to demonstrate that the employer is so cheap you have to keep the lights low, but there are ways to effectively create this on stage without going completely dark. The subsequent, hasty sunrises aren’t much better.

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On the plus side, Santo Loquasto’s set is, (like most Huntington sets), visually appealing and perfectly appropriate for the time and place. The running water and working stove are especially authentic touches that provide a perfect opportunity for the smell of bacon cooking to fill the theater.

Kathleen McElfresh nicely portrays the stiff, aging cook Bridget O’Sullivan with an air of sad resignation that’s somewhat painful to watch. Christopher Donahue’s Jack Smythe embodies the soul of a man both desperate and overeager, while MacKenzie Meehan nicely imbues her likable Cathleen O’Leary with optimism and hope, against all odds.

If only they had a better story to tell.

If you go

“The Second Girl”

Through Feb 21

BCA Calderwood Pavilion

527 Tremont St., Boston

Starting at $25

617-266-0800

www.huntingtontheatre.org

 
 
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