SPRING GREEN, Wis. - The premise of American Players Theatre's production of "The Admirable Chrichton" is amusing.
An English aristocratic family, served by a class conscious butler, William Chrichton, is shipwrecked on a desert island. Chrichton turns out to be a mechanical genius and even equips the island with electric lights. He becomes the head of the family, served by the very snobs he once served.
Alas, the survivors are rescued and servants and masters alike resume their old roles, though those at the top seem less happy to do so than do those at the bottom.
The play, by James Matthew Barrie, is, thus, satire of the British class system, though it doesn't quite work. Or, maybe it does work: the difference depends on whether one is willing to accept the premise that servants are just as haughty and petty as their masters.
Chrichton, played by veteran APT actor James Ridge, just misses the mark. Ridge looks like our stereotype of an English butler but he isn't quite convincing as a snob. It may just be that I've been watching him perform for years, but Ridge just comes across as too nice a guy to be sufficiently haughty.
Colleen Madden, who can play any role, might have been a bit more convincing as Chrichton. Instead, she plays the role of Tweeny, a housemaid who is Chrichton's love interest when things go well but who loses her role in favor of Lady Mary when the family is shipwrecked.
As the lowly housemaid in the big house, Madden resembles no one so much as Agnes Gooch -- if any of you reading are young, check out "Aunty Mame" -- but transforms into a confident, beautiful woman on the island, all to no avail because Chrichton, in power, has lost interest.
Another bright spot in the play is Steven Haggard, who plays the foppish role of the Honorable Ernest Wooley, who is neither earnest nor honorable.
Susan Shunk plays Lady Mary, who, on the island, is able to run down stags for the family table and delights in Chrichton's eye, but who, on returning to London, resumes her engagement to Lord Brockelhurst, ably played by John Taylor Phillips.
All in all, "The Honorable Chrichton" is a pleasant play; it could be a touch better.
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