The main thing Ted Mann and Josephine Abady should do on Monday morning is shackle David Warren, Derek McLane and Donald Holder to their desks at Circle in the Square and secure their services indefinitely, for the director, set and lighting designer of “Holiday,” respectively, have mounted the best production in one of the New York’s toughest spaces in years. Give them anything they want.
But first of all, give them a cast capable of performing Philip Barry without making the task look like calisthenics. This is, after all, the comedy that Katharine Hepburn famously never got to play on Broadway (it was 1928; she was the understudy) but in which she triumphed in the (second) film version, a decade later. Hepburn played Linda Seton, a Fifth Avenue heiress who falls hard for her big sister’s fiance and lucks out in the end.
Linda is played here by Laura Linney, a young actress of steadily growing reputation, which should not be too damaged by her failure to ignite here; in truth, the same applies to her co-star, Tony Goldwyn, also an actor on the rise. Goldwyn is Johnny Case — Cary Grant in the film — who plans to convert a stroke of luck in the stock market into an extended holiday, being firm in the belief that life is for enjoying and work is to be endured only if it’s absolutely necessary.
The two people most scandalized by Johnny’s idea are Julia Seton (Kim Raver), who has planned their life down to the last detail, and her father, Edward (Tom Lacy), a smug, self-made millionaire who simply can’t believe that so astute a young man, with such a promising future in the banking world, would postpone everything for a lark. Eventually, of course, Johnny ends up with the right Seton girl.
Unless this is all played out with an effortless grace, the Seton clan and the various hangers-on who frequent their home quickly grow tiresome, not to say irritating. Warrenhas performed a miracle, dispatching his actors around McLane’s elegant set without forcing them into that choreography one so often sees in productions in the round, and which is excruciating to watch. “Holiday” unfolds with exceptional finesse. And check out McLane’s wonderful homage to the “21” Club in his design for the Seton’s attic retreat. Moreover, Holder’s lighting is exquisite, constantly establishing and re-establishing the tone of the proceedings, and Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes are fine.
Still, none of the four key actors puts across the snooty ease of the carefree rich that “Holiday” demands. You can see the suggestion of it in the performances of Michael Countryman and Anne Lange as the Seton’s mischievous family friends, the Potters. And there’s also nice work from Reg Rogers as the requisite alcoholic son. But for its central quartet, “Holiday” seems like work. It’s not painful to watch, but it’s not nearly enough fun, either.