Mary Catherine Garrison and David Hyde Pierce
in Accent on Youth
(© Joan Marcus)
Mary Catherine Garrison and David Hyde Pierce
in Accent on Youth
(© Joan Marcus)
Samson Raphaelson's Accent on Youth, now being given a rare revival at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman, was introduced to Broadway audiences in 1934, when a playwright could call a central figure Steven Gaye without worrying that anyone would assume the surname was intended to have suggestive societal or psychological connotations. So it's no surprise to find this comedy is dated in other ways and little more than mild entertainment for ticket buyers content with a passing-the-time trifle.

What hasn't gone out of fashion is Raphaelson's knack for presenting recognizably amusing figures and his gift for witty one-liners, which are welcomed by a cast of adept comic actors, led by David Hyde Pierce, who know how to take on colorful guises (abetted by Jane Greenwood's spot-on costumes) and spout amusing quips.

As television viewers know, Pierce may have made a habit of pushing the fey button when playing Niles Crane on Frasier, but here he puts the accent firmly on his romantic leading-man chops. The 50-plus Gaye is a suavely virile playwright -- known for his 19 comedies -- who is looking to add to his Great White Way successes with a drama about a 60-year-old man romancing a girl less than half his age. Life imitates art for the once-married Gaye, however, when he's abruptly seduced by his ostensibly mousy, much younger secretary, Linda Brown (Mary Catherine Garrison) just as he's about to leave on a spur-of-the-moment overseas trip with glamorous actress Genevieve Lang (Rosie Benton).

Raphaelson also throws into the mix the matinee idolish Dickie Reynolds (David Furr), older actor and part-time lush Frank Galloway (Byron Jennings), actressy-actress Miss Darling (Lisa Banes) and, for stepped-up hilarity, man's man Flogdell (Charles Kimbrough). These living-and-breathing cartoons fit snugly onto the stunning wood-paneled, book-lined study that John Lee Beatty has designed as Gaye's office/drawing-room.

Under Daniel Sullivan's slick direction, just about every one of the players has polished his or her role with whatever actors use as a Lemon Pledge equivalent. Kimbrough is never funnier than when demonstrating Flogdell's surprise Indian wrestling technique; Jennings, who seems born to play this part, has a swellegant drunk scene; Furr has Dickie's boyish "tennis anyone" approach down to a T.; Benton is full of easy flair; and Banes (who appears only in the first scene) handles thespian indignation handily.

The exception to this perfection is Garrison, whose Linda Brown is absolutely right for the first act as Gaye's infatuated factotum. However, in act two, when Linda -- now having starred in that December-May play Gaye finished -- enters looking "extremely chic and expensive from head to toe," Garrison doesn't evoke the required theatrical savoir faire. Instead, she still seems like unprepossessing Linda Brown, and no amount of exquisite attire can disguise her miscasting as the play chugs on to its unexpected conclusion.