The Philadelphia Story
The stage version of Philip Barry’s society comedy The Philadelphia Story is neither horseshoes nor hand grenades; to get close is not nearly enough. In particular, getting close to George Cukor’s 1940 silvery film version is a vedy, vedy bad idea. That’s probably why director Shawn Douglass has cast pert, lemony ingénue Elam in the socialite role Katherine Hepburn played so fiercely on film you can still remember her red hair in what was a black-and-white movie; tightly wound hayseed Key as the reporter a much rangier and more reckless Jimmy Stewart played on screen; and golden man-child Goodman as the playboy Cary Grant portrayed (as kind of a Cary Grant type). That none of these players too closely resemble their cinematic counterparts is probably ultimately to the play’s advantage. The less you’re reminded you’re not watching one of the best films of all time, the better.
Yet since Barry’s trifle about a marriage of public convenience that might get exposed by hungry media sharks is revealed here to be a sparkling examination of life under glass, and because the supporting cast is so good—crisp Armour as the flustered family matron, quicksilver Greg Anderson as a savvy media manipulator, Wendi Weber as a wiseacre photographer—you still wish the three leads had a little more fire. In particular, here the famous second-act drunk scene, in which Tracy Lord and her would-be reporter beau use high-end hooch as a self-administered truth serum, is sober enough to operate heavy machinery. But, as is often the case at Remy Bumppo, the playwright is the star. And as party guests go, Barry is one you never have to pretend to be happy to see.