Sabrina Fair
 by Samuel Taylor
 Stetson University Stover Theatre
 September 2003

The stage play on which the film “Sabrina” is based, "Sabrina Fair" is set in the 1950s on a large estate on Long Island Sound owned by the very wealthy Larrabee family. Sabrina is the daughter of the Larrabee’s chauffeur, who has returned from a successful career in Paris to find out if she still has feelings for the love of her youth, David Larrabee. In the process, she encounters David’s older brother Linus, who is strangely preoccupied with resolving her conflict for her. When Sabrina’s would-be fianceé follows her from Paris, she must choose between her three suitors and the lives they represent. In the end, after stirring things up in the lives of her father and his employers, she finds our more about herself and who she has grown into -- and in the end of course, she finds a truer love.

Much more than a simple love story, this plays deals with issues such as aging in a changing world, resuming the limitations of American culture after living abroad, and the flexibility of moral values among the wealthy. Ironically, it is also contains one of the most ancient of plot devices -- the "poor servant girl" is allowed to marry the "master of the house" as she is discovered to have wealth that puts her in their social stratum. The difference with this play is that the money does not rule Sabrina nor her true love.

The concept for this production focused on the early 1950s as a time of transition in American culture and society -- between "old money" and entrepreneurship, between local and global politics, between obsolete and new definitions of proper behavior -- and even extends to musical styles (post big-band but pre-rock and roll, for instance). In the set design, the outdoor patio of this mansion thus becomes a crucible for these transitions, with the structure and civilized architecture of the mansion house on stage right and the more rustic elements of the open water and untamed nature on stage left -- leaving the patio area as a kind of "stage" on which to examine the tensions between the old and new orders -- in society,  in politics, in business, yes, but more importantly in love.

This production marked the second year of a collaboration between Stetson and Lake Highland Prep School, in which both organizations produced the same play in separate productions, while sharing costs and labor to construct the set. The set was designed and built at Stetson, where the show opened in late September; it is then disassembled and delivered to Lake Highland, and used in the play’s October production there. Each school cast the play from its own students and conducted separate rehearsal processes.

There were a number of challenges associated with this project. One was finding a play that would work at both places. Not only were the audiences and talent pools very different, but we needed a single unit set that was affordable and could travel -- as well as be built in a short period of time. Coaching acting was also a challenge in that this play has many references to issues current in the 1950s that we had to come to grips with; its language is rather elevated and witty (hard to sound realistic); and it's about people's concerns who are much richer than most of us. But more than anything else, there is a huge romantic scene near the end of Act II in which only two people are on stage for about 20 minutes -- and the acting needs to be very delicate -- it's a long, slow, quiet scene in which two people fall in love. We were very diligent in achieving the right balance there, and probably spent the most rehearsal time on it. An opposite acting challenge was given the large number of people with very small roles -- they have to be clear, and streamline their actions and interpretations down to the essentials, as well as convey a fully rounded character with just a few lines of dialogue and brief appearances.

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Copyright © 2003 by Ken McCoy.