Trinity Rep's season opener is a fast-paced production of John Guare's His Girl Friday, adapted from the classic 1940 Columbia Pictures film. In this adaptation, Guare also draws from the source material for the film, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's 1928 play, The Front Page.
Fred Sullivan, Jr. plays the hard-boiled, but big-hearted, newspaper editor Walter Burns, who is reeling from the dual losses of his star reporter and his wife - Hildy Johnson, played by Angela Brazil.
Hildy is in Chicago on a train layover from Reno, NV to Albany, NY. She intends to make a victory lap of the press room in the Chicago Criminal Courts Building to gloat about her new domesticated life as the wife-to-be of insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin, played by Stephen Thorne.
The boys in the press room are bored, passing time by playing endless hands of poker, hoping for a scoop on the impending hanging of convicted cop killer Earl Holub (Philippe Bowgen). There is an upcoming election and the Mayor (Richard Donelly) and Sheriff (Stephen Berenson) and determined to shore up their law-and-order credentials with this high-profile execution - whether it is justified or not.
Still smarting from their recent divorce, Burns woos Hildy, not with flowers or candy, but with the promise of one last really big exclusive and by-line. When Holub escapes and almost literally lands in her lap (in an inventive piece of stage-craft) Hildy is hooked and conspires to hide the confessed killer in a roll-top desk until she can get to the bottom of the story. Hildy and Burns both know that this man's life is in the hands of corrupt politicians who care more about their jobs than they do about justice.
The most obvious change from play to film (and back to stage) is that the character of Hildy Johnson changed genders from male to female. Hildy was a career-defining film role for Rosiland Russell who got second-billing but stole the picture right out from under Cary Grant who played Walter Burns.
In Trinity's production, directed by Curt Columbus, the show belongs, unsurprisingly, to Fred Sullivan who can pull off broad slapstick comedy while making it appear completely natural. Angela Brazil holds her own as Hildy - giving as good as she gets.
Janice Duclos and Brian McEleney are simply divine in their multiple roles. Duclos plays both a sweet, doddering, old padre and Mother Baldwin who is an irascible bigot. McEleney effortlessly switches between the uptight and fussy reporter Bensinger and the small-time shyster, Diamond Louie.
Eugene Lee has created an ingenious set - which on the face of it is a tattered, old newsroom. Lee has created entrances and exits that help Janice Duclos, Phyllis Kay, Stephen Berenson and especially Brian McEleney, make quick changes.
The original 1940 film runs a tight 92 minutes. Trinity's production of John Guare's adaptation ran at least 45 minutes longer than that. There are some timely themes; unscrupulous media types paying for sources, corrupt politicians, etc. But, at its core His Girl Friday is a screwball comedy. I am not convinced that an additional three-quarters of an hour is needed to tell this story.
Tickets for His Girl Friday range from $22 - $66 and can be purchased at the Trinity Rep Box Office, which is located at 201 Washington St., Providence, RI; by phone at (401) 351-4242; and online at www.trinityrep.com.