Studio Six Theater Company is a new New York-based group made up of the first class of full-time American students at the famed Moscow Art Theater School. In their NY production debut, they present Too Clever By Half (or The Diary of a Scoundrel), which shows off their skills as an acting ensemble and offers a summer crowd pleaser for the Restoration Comedy lovers of the City. Make no mistake; this is a Russian play written in the 1800s - a comedy of manners and society reminiscent of A School for Scandal or The Importance of Being Earnest. The Russians, believe it or not, can be funny too. The production opens with a bristly-bearded man sauntering across the stage to make his way to the piano that sits near a downstage corner. He pours water from a wine bottle into a teacup and with that, we are in Moscow. Our hero is a poor, young social climber who is determined to make his way into the gossip-riddled upper class by marrying a woman with a handsome dowry. He decides to chronicle his experience by keeping a diary of his treacherous acts. He pretends to love a woman. He lies. He backstabs. He is eventually blackmailed and his actions are discovered for what they are at a crucial moment. At every turn, sticky situations arise that push us forward through to the end.
Studio Six’s theater is designed to highlight the ingenuity and skill of its actors. These performers make the most of the witty wordplay and present character relationships full of tension and chemistry. The bits of physical humor carried out by high-energy performers who had created very specific characters conjure delight and laughter every time. The quality of accents varied by performer, but not enough to pull you out of the action.
To further showcase the actors’ talents, the design elements are kept to a minimum. They utilize rehearsal blocks and scarves to great effect. You don’t miss any glitz and glamour, although as they continue to grow as a company (and as budgets grow), I hope they add in more design elements that will elevate their strong performances to a strong overall production.
This is a well-constructed and carefully directed presentation of a straight play. It’s great for the theatergoer that enjoys a light entertainment on a summer day.