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The Philadelphia Story

Intrusion by the media into the personal lives of the rich and famous is hardly a new phenomenon. Philip Barry penned his urbane social class comedy "The Philadelphia Story" in 1939 and set it in 1940, when the tactics of those who covered the society beat were somewhat more civilized than the antagonistic, at-all-costs maneuvers employed by many tabloid photographers and reporters (one can hardly call them journalists) today.

With:
Tracy Lord - Alison Eastwood
Dinah Lord - Lynsey Bartilson
Margaret Lord - Claudette Nevins
Sandy Lord - Ben Livingston
Thomas - Henry Selvitelle
Uncle Willie - John Bliss
Liz - Jill Remez
Mike - Briant Wells
George - Tom Kiesche
Dexter - Hugh O’Gorman
Seth Lord - H.M. Wynant

Intrusion by the media into the personal lives of the rich and famous is hardly a new phenomenon. Philip Barry penned his urbane social class comedy “The Philadelphia Story” in 1939 and set it in 1940, when the tactics of those who covered the society beat were somewhat more civilized than the antagonistic, at-all-costs maneuvers employed by many tabloid photographers and reporters (one can hardly call them journalists) today.

Style in a show like “The Philadelphia Story” is everything, as is ease with the language. Expressions like “Oh, suds!” do not fall easily from the mouth if style and subtext are missing —and they sometimes are in this uneven production.

Tracy Lord, a beautiful, privileged and self-centered Philadelphia divorcee, is embarking on marriage No. 2. To hush up a damaging magazine article about their father, Tracy’s brother Sandy (Ben Livingston) offers society scribe Mike Conner (Briant Wells) and his shutterbug sidekick, Liz Imbrie (Jill Remez), the inside scoop on his sister’s high-toned nuptials, which means putting the pair up at the family estate.

Complications arise when Mike falls for Tracy, and Tracy’s ex, the dashing, debonair Dexter Haven (Hugh O’Gorman), unexpectedly appears. The presence of these unwanted men jeopardizes her wedding to conventional businessman George Kittredge (Tom Kiesche).

Tracy is variously described as “strong,” “magnificent” and “lit from within,” so why Alison Eastwood plays her as a one-dimensional ice queen, lacking the passion that others clearly see in her, is perplexing. Eastwood possesses the necessary cool good looks, but she flattens out Tracy’s haughty attitude and misses her witty spirit and veneer of self-assurance.

Livingston, however, is welcome refreshment with every entrance. The difference in energy, self-confidence and focus between this thesp and Eastwood (who seems constantly distracted) is remarkable. O’Gorman also brings a sparkle to the stage, and Lynsey Bartilson, as Tracy’s precocious younger sister, Dinah, has a few scene-stealing moments as well.

Shon LeBlanc’s costumes do exhibit a ’40s flair, and his use of color blends beautifully with the pale greens and yellows of John Iacovelli’s classy scenic design. J. Kent Inasy’s lighting plot during evening scenes fails to set mood or indicate hour. Late evening is indistinct from early morning, and both are too glaring for ambient light. Indoor lights are more appropriate, but remain unremarkable.

The Philadelphia Story

Court Theater; 94 seats; $25

Production: A Judy Arnold Prods. and B! Serious Prods. presentation of a comedy in three acts by Philip Barry. Director, Jules Aaron; sets, John Iacovelli; costumes, Shon LeBlanc; lighting, J. Kent Inasy; sound, Julie Ferrin. Opened April 21, 2000; reviewed April 23; closes June 11. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN. [###]

Cast: Tracy Lord - Alison Eastwood
Dinah Lord - Lynsey Bartilson
Margaret Lord - Claudette Nevins
Sandy Lord - Ben Livingston
Thomas - Henry Selvitelle
Uncle Willie - John Bliss
Liz - Jill Remez
Mike - Briant Wells
George - Tom Kiesche
Dexter - Hugh O’Gorman
Seth Lord - H.M. Wynant

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