On Theater: 'Sitting Pretty' isn't always pretty

"Sitting Pretty" — not to be confused with the vintage Clifton Webb movie — is a strange little British semi-comedy of frustrated characters and unfulfilled lives which somehow get sorted out via the most improbable situations.

Amy Rosenthal's overpopulated opus centers on Nancy, a middle-aged spinster, morose and withdrawn — almost catatonic — after losing her job, who revitalizes her life by signing up for a local art class where she discovers, to her shock, that she's to be the model — the nude model. Rather than reverse course in embarrassment, she gamely accepts the assignment.

As presented at the Newport Theatre Arts Center under the direction of Phyllis Gitlin, "Sitting Pretty" succeeds sporadically, thanks primarily to the presence of Harriet Whitmyer as Nancy, whose facial expressions convey volumes and whose comedic instincts are finely tuned. This veteran actress populates her role with poignancy and precision.

As her younger, also unmarried, sister with whom she shares a London flat, Carrie Theodossin is a tough cookie, a museum art lecturer who spends most of her time fending off the attentions of an admiring neighbor (the solid Brian Page). She's been hurt 30 years ago and has no desire to get back into the romantic ring.

A sterling performance is delivered by Alex Gurevich as Philip, the womanizing art instructor who's bedded at least two of his students, including the young model (Aspen Ford) whose resignation paves the way for Nancy. Ford and Gurevich strike some intellectually emotional sparks in their lively subplot.

Of the relatively anonymous collection of art students, only the saucy Josie (Della Lisi) makes any lasting impression. One young man (Kyle Galloway) remains mute through most of the show, finally startling the others when he eventually utters a comment.

To answer the obvious question, there's no real nudity in the NTAC production, save for a slightly bared upper torso, viewed from the rear. And the painting of Nancy, revealed late in the play, is tastefully accomplished.

Andrew Otero's multiple settings (residence, studio, café) are effectively presented, nicely supported by Mitch Atkins' lighting designs and Rae Cohen's costumes.

Watching "Sitting Pretty" is somewhat like immersing yourself into a warm bath — it takes a bit of time to reach the comfort level. Once Rosenthal's play cuts through the extraneous prose, there's some tasty red meat to be digested by the patient playgoer.

TOM TITUS covers the local theater scene for the Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Sitting Pretty"

Where: Newport Theatre Arts Center, 2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, and 2 p.m. on Sundays until Dec. 11

Cost: $16

Call: (949) 631-0288 or http://www.ntaconline.com

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