Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Philadelphia Story"

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entire contents copyright 1997 by Larry Stark


"The Philadelphia Story"

by Philip Barry
Directed by Frank Gayton

Lighting Design by Paul O'Shaughnessy
Costume Design by Frank Gayton & Eric Greimann
Set Design by Frank Gayton
Stage Manager Kate Krug

Tracy Lord..............................Melanie May
Dinah Lord............................Whitney Cohen
Margaret Lord............................Jane Yoffe
Alexander (Sandy) Lord................Randy Orndorf
Butler..................................Bob Desmond
Uncle Willie...........................Jack Delmond
Liz Imbrie..........................Carol Gallagher
Mike Connor........................John Schnatterly
George Kittredge.......................Rick Gifford
Dexter Haven.........................Wayne Larocque
Seth Lord............................Chuck Sullivan
Mac/Rev. Dr. Parsons.....................Tom Cullen


How long after 1939, when Philip Barry wrote it, did the community theater at The Footlight Club do a production of "The Philadelphia Story" in Jamaica Plain? Not long, probably. They knew a good script when they saw one, and they still do. The details have become a little quaint over time, the class warfare seems forced, the disgraces no longer shock, but though it's pushing sixty there's life in the old script yet

Director Frank Gayton begins and ends the four scenes with frozen black silhuettes against his sprightly yellow cyclorama, as though these were elegant ads in a '30s magazine coming temporarily to brash, witty life. The occasion is the second marriage of still spunky red-haired Bryn Mawr deb Tracy Lord to the coming-man and perhaps future President George Kittredge, in what might have been the blueprint for Jacqueline Bouvier's own early life.

But, like all marriages, this one turns uproar. Dexter the ex shows up, hoping to watch Tracy embarrass the virginal purity that did in their marriage. A girl photog and her muck-raking reporter beau arrive hoping to embarrass all Philadelphia with some dirt on the rich and famous. Even the family's black-sheep father turns up, embarrassed over a mid-life fling with a New York "actress", hoping for a little filial forgiveness.

And by play's end everyone gets just what they always really wanted and a bit of unexpected self-awareness thrown in for good measure. It's the sort of thing that, done even reasonably well, still springs several surprises, and reasonably well is exactly how the Footlight Club takes this old warhorse over its jumps.

In early scenes when people are establishing themselves things are a little flat, with everyone relying on the snap of the lines rather than building much reality into these urbanely bantering people, but when they begin to make choices and to change, they are at their best. John Schnatterly, whose rich- hating reporter gets tipsy enough to fall for Tracy as a kind of redemptive exception to his rule, is particularly adept here. Chuck Sullivan as the wayward dad also defends his veer and asks that it be forgotten with forthright integrity.

Melanie May's Tracy is the multi-faceted wall off whom most of the other characters bounce. She matches Schnatterly's bemused infatuation, then deals rather convincingly with the consequences of it and the conclusions she must draw from it. Rick Gifford's George never quite handles the cool forgiveness he haughtily offers after his bride has gone skinny-dipping with another man the night before the ceremony. And, of course, Wayne Larocque as Dexter the ex somehow always assumes she will learn both to slip and to forgive herself, so their warm reunion has no earlier hints of stern contempt to contrast against.

In smaller yet significant roles, Carol Gallagher's photographer drops her several scene-stopping comments with deadly accurate timing, and Whitney Cohen's younger sister Dinah seems to have been understudying her older sis in order to make her own turn as bratty debutante even more socially shattering --- and with much more style.

The script and the cast both have their lapses, and neither is a match for everyone's memories of the classic movie, but not many plays, at 58, are still alive and capable of surprising as this, and The Footlight Club has done it again.

Love,
===Anon.

Produced by
Carol Gallagher and Dianne Ford
for
THE FOOTLIGHT CLUB
at
Eliot Hall
7 Eliot Street, JAMAICA PLAIN
till 26 April
1(617)524-6506



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