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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Swimming at the Ritz

As Coco Chanel advised me, "The best things in life are free. The second best are very, very expensive." It's amazing what a lifetime of shopping will get you. — Pamela
Swimming at the Ritz
Christopher Daftsios and Judith Hawking (Photo: SuzAnne Barabas)
It was ten years after hugely successful Broadway producer Leland Hayward had produced Call Me Madam, a hit musical about a fictional U.S. Ambassador that he would meet and marry his next and fifth wife — the woman who was ironically destined in 1993 to be given the post of U.S. Ambassador to France. The real life Madam Ambassador, the English born (from a titled family) and now an American citizen Pamela Churchill Hayward Harriman knew precisely how to handle and use men. Taught by her mother at an early age to "Sit in the back of the car and wait for a man to come," proved a useful strategy throughout her eventful life.

. However, given credit in Madeleine Albright's biography for sleeping her way to the top, socialite Pamela was highly motivated, passionately politicized, and was largely responsible for saving the Democratic Party with a unique fund-raising system. In Charles Leipart's very amusing entertaining two-character play Swimming at the Ritz this former adventuress is personally suffering from a lack of funds in 1995. Yet she is committed to raising, or more correctly, arousing our interest in her marriages and many notorious love affairs.

The woman who meets and greets us is no longer at the top or at the top of her game. But she had already found herself a permanent niche in social and political society somewhere between the famous and the infamous.

As the play begins, Pamela (a terrifically exuberant Judith Hawking) makes a point of being aggressively charming and purposefully seductive. She is fresh out of money and no man in sight or in her sights, that is except for Pietro (Christopher Daftsios) the good-looking Italian valet at the Paris Ritz where she is in residence.

At the moment, she is packing up all her remaining object's d'art to be sold at auction by Christie's. Being sued for forty million dollars by her step children (Averell Harriman's offspring) for squandering the family inheritance and living beyond her means, she is thinking about how nice it would be to take a swim in the pool.

"I always do all my swimming at the Paris Ritz," is only the first of many much funnier and juicier disclosures to be shared by this very attractive, beautifully attired and coiffed blonde. Virtually alone, that is except for Pietro who has previously been kept from view behind a dressing screen. He has been dutifully and mindfully awaiting her summons in the elegant suite (well designed and appointed by Jessica Parks.) Always at her beck and call, but able to speak only a few words in English, he has apparently been assigned to listen to the ups and downs of this beguiling, if self-aggrandizing, woman's life.

Hawkins is in total control of the pandering affectations and florid pretentions that serve to define Pamela. We need only to sit back and enjoy what she has to say and the way in which she says it. She is eager to share with us, as well as with the mostly nonplussed Pietro, the highlights of her various marriages and the numerous colorful affairs that have defined her life.

For those too young to remember the scandals that surrounded Pamela during her heyday (the second half of the 20th century), she may seem somewhat irrelevant today, but some are surprisingly significant. Time tumbles back and forth freely as do Pamela's vivid memories of her marriages to Randolph Churchill (Winston's son), Leland Heyward, and W. Averell Harriman, as well as the affairs with the likes of Prince Aly Khan and Baron Elie de Rothschild supply story-worthy content to the often comical soliloquizing.

Pamela's treating our presence as a mirror of her own consciousness is not a new device, but director Suzanne Barabas keeps the feeling of spontaneity alive even as the play occasionally slips into a then I did this and then I did that pattern. Fortunately, Hawkins keep swimming through the turbulence and uses every stroke in the manual to reach the finish line a winner.

The play succeeds in overcoming the question of relevance simply by being frothy fun though I think a ninety minute, one-act version would be preferable This is the American premiere of the play by American playwright Leipart following a number of productions in the United Kingdom in 2010 and 11.

Swimming at the Ritz by Charles Leipart
Directed by SuzAnne Barabas

Cast: Christopher Daftios (Pietro), Judith Hawking (Pamela)
Stage Manager: Jennifer Dardibuono
Costume Designer: Patricia E. Doherty
Scenic Designer: Jessica Parks
Lighting Designer: Jill Nagle
Sound Desinger: Merek Royce Press
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, N.J.(732) 229 - 3166
Tickets: $42.00 or
Performances: Thursday & Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 pm and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm & selected 7 pm.
From 01/08/15 Opening 01/10/15 Ends 02/01/15
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 01/10/15
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