For nearly 40 years, Pittsburgh-born theatrical genius George S. Kaufman ruled Broadway; every season from 1921 through 1958 featured a show he wrote and/or directed. The man won a couple of Pulitzers and a Tony, crafted some of the funniest plays ever, was the drama critic for The New York Times through much of this and, to top it all off, starred in a fair number of sex scandals involving Broadway and Hollywood actresses.
Kaufman was also known as "The Great Collaborator" because of the work he did with leading writers of the day including Edna Ferber, the Gershwins and, most famously, Moss Hart.
At the tail end of his reign, the "Gloomy Dean of Broadway" paired up with Howard Teichmann to write The Solid Gold Cadillac, a satire about a big business being brought to heel by a minority shareholder.
No wonder The Summer Company picked it. But, simply put, Kaufman has written far better plays. As he once famously said: "Satire is what closes on Saturday night" (a line curiously referenced in this script). So I'm not sure how long Kaufman (and Teichmann) thought such a watered-down, toothless satire as this would run. (One critic at the time wrote: "Drag this tin lizzie out of town!")
The corporate world of this script is as removed from reality as possible. The evil overlords are buffoons who, in any other play, would be disposed of in the second scene, rather than limping through to the end of the second act. The small stakeholder battling the company, Laura Partridge, never rises beyond the level of cartoon. Perhaps that's why Kaufman and Teichmann try to finesse some of this by having a narrator present the story as a children's fairy tale. It doesn't help.
Rebecca J. Stevens directs but seems as confused by the show as I am. Endless physical shtick is added whenever possible. That's OK, I guess, but unfortunately the show is stopped short every time to make room for the gags ... and this isn't a script you wanna linger over.
Given the role of Partridge, the very gifted local comedian Jill Jeffrey works hard to disinter the jokes, but it's really a losing battle.
I'm a huge Kaufman fan, so I am glad the Summer Company has provided the chance to see a play not staged in Pittsburgh in at least 20 years. Others might not share my gratitude.
The Solid Gold Cadillac continues through Sat., June 13. The Summer Company in the Peter Mills Theater, Rockwell Hall, Duquesne University. 412-243-5201.