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Benefactors is a Revival that Moves

Apr 28 2008
Jack Zink | Sun-Sentinel

Some really good shows have what appear to be thankless roles, even when done with the dramatic precision and pitiable lack of self-esteem that Nanique Gheridian brings to Sheila, the doormat of Michael Frayn's sardonic Benefactors. But make no mistake. While others have the showy, make-you-care jobs, Gheridian makes this important revival tick. ...Frayn's play made its mark in London and on Broadway in 1984 and '85... so the term "revival" is misleading when you consider how well this Palm Beach Dramaworks staging scores. Architect David (Michael St. Pierre) and wife Jane (Irene Adjan) are on society's upside. In 1968, he gets a commission to redevelop a tired old neighborhood. As the governmental wheels grind on, plans eventually lose contact with the original idealistic premise. This, however, is less painful than the torture involved with the couple's adoption of Colin (Todd Allen Durkin) and Sheila (Gheridian), wannabe friends who become leeches. The production under J. Barry Lewis' direction has that certain British stiff upper lip-ness, sustaining the sardonic humor described by character Jane, and digging under skin to get at Frayn's expose of the faults of do-gooder-ness. Regarding Durkin, Adjan and St. Pierre, the casting is both obvious and well served. Thanks, then, to Gheridian for putting flesh on the imagery, however discomforting. The actors are surrounded with splendid effects... Michael Amico's scenery focuses on the architect's stylishly retro apartment, leaving strong visual suggestions for his counterpart Colin's less-inviting digs. Snappy costumes are by Leslye Menshouse, and the subtle lighting changes are by Todd Wren. Then, director Lewis effectively sends his cast out into the aisle between the audience for a few key scenes that shake up expectations.