REVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Philadelphia Story

By Philip Barrythe philadelphia story by Barry, circle theatre

Directed by Jim Schenider

At Circle Theatre, Forest Park

Philip Barry’s comedy of manners plays nicely at Circle Theatre

Director Jim Schenider has knack mounting intelligent comedies of manners. With the 1939 classic Philip Barry’s play, The Philadelphia Story, he has another funny play that entices audiences. That work resurrected the career of Katherine Hepburn. Remember the 1940 film with Hepburn, Carey Grant and Jimmy Stewart? Schenider has mounted a funny, intelligent and thoroughly enjoyable production of The Philadelphia Story.

the philadelphia story by Barry, circle theatre

Bob Knuth once again has created an elegant old money family estate drawing room set that hints at  the elegance of the rich and privileged Lord family of Philadelphia, circa 1930’s. Add the period-perfect costumes (by Elizabeth Wislar) and The Philadelphia Story plays like a classical drawing room comedy of manners. This production is light-hearted, fast-paced filled with whimsy.

the philadelphia story by Barry, circle theatre

A day before her second marriage to a self-made business man, haughty socialite Tracy Lord (Laura McClain in full red hair with imitations of Hepburn) is a most assured, even cocky woman about her future. She is in command and lives almost to perfection in her manner and confidence. However, the arrival of her ex-husband, Dexter (the urbane Kevin Anderson) and a crude, worldly tabloid journalist, Mike Connor (the everyman Josh Hambrock) shakes Tracy’s vision of herself to her core. We see Tracy slowly melt down as Dexter, her estranged father Seth (Tom Viskocil) and the outspoken journalist through sharp and caustic repartee and a compromising champagne-induced event begin to crack Tracy’s tough veneer. Once Laura McClain settled into her role, she was terrific as Tracy.

the philadelphia story by Barry, circle theatre

This stylistic romantic comedy is superbly written in the glossy upper class language befitting the idol over-educated rich aristocratic American families.  The grace and charm of the 30’s drawing room comedies is present here. Playwright Philip Barry captures the foibles and eccentricities of the high society elite. We meet Sandy Lord (Doug Pawlik) the young mischievous brother of the bride. Margaret Lord (Mary Pavia) is the dotting matriarch while Dinah Lord (Katelyn Smith who needs to slow down her speech a tad to be understood) is the precious teen sister and William (Peter Esposito is a hoot) is the eccentric uncle. The estranged father, Seth completes the elite Philadelphia family.

The Philadelphia Story is the story of the maturing transformation of Tracy Lord. In her journey of self discovery we see how acceptance of human weaknesses and personal differences—both in ourselves and others absent judgment is the highest form of maturity.

As the role of Tracy Lord reinvigorated Katherine Hepburn’s stage and screen career, Laura McClain is winning, funny and commanding especially when she abandons imitating Hepburn. McClain has the radiance, wit and sophistication to carry the play. McClain’s performance is strong, steady and winning.

Kevin Anderson’s smooth breezy performance both rattles and enchants Tracy. Jhenai Mootz’s Liz and Josh Hambrock’s Mike has enough cynical edge to be believable as magazine reporters. The sparks fly between Hambrook’s Mike and McClain’s Tracy. Twists and turns fuel this funny show. This is a worthy production of a stage/film classic.  We all need a clever, well-played comedy of manners during a long hot summer. This one is worth a look.


Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended

At  Circle Theatre, 7300 W. Madison, Forest Park, IL, tickets $20 – $22 – $24, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with 2 intermissions.

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