The Philadelphia Story
Written by Philip Barry
Directed by Rachel Pulido
In the Cabot House Living Room
REMEMBER The Philadelphia Story, the great screwball comedy starring Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart? I knew you would. Who can forget a classic? Could and adaptation of the script avoid comparison--unfavorable comparison--to the original? No way.
However the Cabot House production of the famous story is pretty good just the same. Just pretty good, though, because there are some striking weaknesses weaknesses in the production with or without the production with or without the inevitable comparisons.
The Philadelphia Story, in case anybody missed the film, is about romantic entanglements. Specifically those of dim-witted Philadelphia socialite Tracy Lord (Sarah Halper) and the two men who want her attention: George Kittredge (John Frost), Tracy's ex-husband and, by the end, everybody's hero.
A complicated, hilarious situations involving the trio and a pair of nosy reporters (Nick Davis and Margie Ingall) out to tell the real story of the upper-crust predictably culminates in a wedding. The wedding, of course, is dust-try and the dialogue catty through it all.
In this basically sound production, the most apparent flaw is with the character of Tracy. Some of this might be attributable to a slow start on opening night, for Halper did seem to improves as the play wore on. But Halper's performance consistently lacked vocal or facial life and expression. Because Tracy Lord is the central character of the play, this partially flawed performance casts a shadow over the entire production.
Better were the performances of the reporters, though Nick Davis's accent got lost after the first couple lines. Davis is in some ways more convincing than Jimmy Stewart, both as an angry muckraking reporter and as a potential romantic interest. Josh Frost does a great C.K. Dexter Haven, but the Cabot House lines than his movie counterpart. This diminished presence is a definite loss for staged productions.
Standing out above all these performances, however, is Laurence Bouvard, a longtime Harvard theater veteran. As Dinah Lord, Tracy's younger sister, she convinces utterly. Even with her peripheral part, her energy dominated the opening night performance. Todd Burn produce as eccentric old Uncle Willie.
Direction, while generally functional, is faulty in several areas. Most distracting was how the furniture and the characters were placed in flat, absolutely straight lines. Pacing and opening-night jitters, also suffered from inadequate directorial control at times. The movement on stage was generally realistic, but voice projection levels were wildly different, in ways not explainable by character difference.
Placing the set for this production in the Cabot House living room works very nicely indeed--like most Harvard house common rooms, it looks like an upper-class living room. The period music is nice, but the production could use some more of it, it uses thee same songs at each tedious scene change. Perhaps Pulido should pull out the rest of soundtrack to Radio Days.
Regardless of the weakness of this production, one can't get around the one point I'm going to push: whether on film or on stage, this is a great story no matter who is doing it. So go and make your own comparisons. All in all, though, I'd rather be in Philadelphia