The Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story

-Theatre Review by Diana Mumford

The Philadelphia Story, now playing at the Charlottesville Live Arts Gibson theatre, December 13th-January 18th, was originally written in 1939 by Philip Barry. The revival follows a wealthy family that has been largely unaffected by the Great Depression. Barry’s approach to the slice-of-life concerns of the upper crust of society was adapted for the silver screen the following year. Both the play and film originally starred Audrey Hepburn as the lead, Tracy Lord, a socialite en route to self-discovery.

After ridding herself of her alcoholic first husband, Tracy, at present played by Elizabeth Trevor, finds a new partner in stalwart George Kittredge, played by Ray Smith. With her own love life seemingly in order, she and her family struggle with the burden of her father’s affair. The family’s troubles grow when two reporters are sent by Sidney Kidd, a tabloid mogul, to uncover the clandestine scandals of “fashionable Philadelphia.”

The reporters, Liz Imbrie and Mike Conner, played by Grace Trapnell and Daniel Prillaman, nimbly deliver dialogue wrought with dry wit. Mike’s introduction to the Lords completes Tracy’s excess of gentleman callers. The predicament of a well-to-do woman with three lovers is hard to sympathize with, but Trevor’s resurrection of Hepburn’s role is noteworthy. Trevor gives depth to the potentially one-dimensional socialite role with her depiction of her character’s genuine need to be presumed a flawed human.

Audiences will feel transported in time. The show opens with a movie projection that provides the Lord families’ back-story, an interesting and effective choice by director Betsy Rudelich Tucker. The visual incorporates traditional filming styles from the 1940s, and the device is used again between acts to move the story along. Likewise, the physical staging is done tastefully in the minimalist style of the wealthy. The wardrobe echoes the set by including well-executed vintage-inspired looks in monochrome grey tones. In classic Hollywood style, the Lord sisters change into overdone motley when peacocking for the reporters.

Tracy’s younger sister, Dinah, played by Camille Kielbasa, presents a catalyst for further discord. The table is set for drama when she invites Tracy’s ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven, played by Brad Frazier, to lunch. Dinah’s character has the potential to skew gratingly cutesy, but Kielbasa’s talent is apparent. She manages an intelligent performance while staving off an overly sentimental portrayal throughout the course of the play.

The parental figures in the play also deliver impressive performances. The stodgy father Sandy Lord (Johnny Landers) and mother hen Margaret Lord (Jennifer Lawless) seem entirely comfortable in their parts while Stewart Moneymaker as the lecherous Uncle Willie is both hilarious and cringe-worthy.

Barry’s play underscores the idea that humans are messes wrapped in clever packaging. As the reporters prying into the Lord’s lives, uncovering their moral shortcomings, Tracy is forced to realize her imperfections.

The Philadelphia Story is a light-hearted peak into high society. Despite the play’s sentimental romantic comedy ending, entertaining dialogue and the likeable cast create an enjoyable atmosphere into which audiences will happily escape.


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