Pioneer Theatre Company offers vital, stylish 'A Philiadelphia Story'
In "The Rich Boy," F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them."
Fitzgerald knew what we now call the 1 percent well, and so did Philip Barry, whose witty romantic comedy, "The Philadelphia Story," is being revived at Pioneer Theatre Company in a stylish production.
On its surface, "The Philadelphia Story" sounds like a lot of 1930s and 1940s portraits of the "privileged class enjoying its privileges," as journalist Macaulay (Mike) Connor puts it in the play.
Socialite Tracy Lord is about to embark on her second marriage, this time to a self-made coal magnate, George Kittredge, but as a family favorite her first husband, childhood sweetheart and neighbor C.K. Dexter Haven, is still very present.
But Barry does two things that inject depth into this familiar romantic triangle. The first is introducing writer Connor and photographer Liz Imbrie, who have come to do a story on the wedding for Destiny magazine, into the mix.
Their articulate comments on the Philadelphia Main Line from a totally different perspective throw a new light on the myth of America being a classless society.
And when Tracy and Mike discover a mutual attraction, the plot gets an extra shot of adrenaline.
Barry's best contribution, however, is the character of Tracy.
Far from an empty-headed heiress, she is a complicated and contradictory woman who becomes increasingly interesting as the play develops and she is forced to confront discoveries about herself and the people around her and make new choices.
Long-legged, glamorous Allison McLemore is the perfect choice for this role. She combines the savvy sophistication of a woman of the world with the curiosity and zest for living of a young girl in an engaging performance that demonstrates the truth of her statement that "the time to make up your mind about people is never."
The surrounding ensemble is equally adept at handling Barry's brittle, entertaining repartee.
Todd Lawson's glib, sarcastic Mike reveals his hidden vulnerability, a nice contrast to Jay Stratton's stuffy, self-righteous George. Todd Gearhart gets a slower start as philosophical commentator Dexter but becomes much stronger in Act II.
Margaret Nichols creates an outspoken, insightful Liz. Joyce Cohen's frazzled, supportive Margaret; Andy Rindlisbach's clever, resourceful Sandy; Bill Nabel's devilishly droll Uncle Willie; Anderson Matthews' stern, but ultimately loving, Seth; and Bailee Johnson's dramatic, 12-going-on-25 Dinah make up the rest of the Lord family, although Johnson rattles on too quickly and is often difficult to understand.
Jenn Thompson's animated, playful direction features fluid scene changes and a dance-number curtain call. Wilson Chin's white and blue living-room set with its sweeping staircase and pillars and full moon on the backdrop is stunning. Mary Louise Geiger's warm, sunlit lighting and David Toser's fashionable costumes supply finishing touches.
This fast-moving, funny production is the perfect remedy for the January blues and verifies Barry's ability to rival English playwright Oscar Wilde in creating the American version of a comedy of manners.
Pioneer Theatre Company's 'The Philadelphia Story'
P Pioneer Theatre Company's witty and entertaining production of "The Philadelphia Story" reasserts the vitality and relevance of an American classic.
When • Reviewed on Friday; Mondays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Jan. 26, with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m.
Where • Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, University of Utah campus, Salt Lake City
Tickets • Tickets are $25 to $44 with discounts for students and groups. Call 581-6961 or visit http://www.pioneertheatre.org for tickets and information.
Running time • Two and a half hours (including an intermission)