It's a privilege!

The Philadelphia Story

By Philip Barry
Directed by Shilarna Stokes
Gallery Players
199 14th Street, Brooklyn [(718) 595-0547]
Equity showcase (closes April 9)
Review by David Mackler

A well-written play is a particularly satisfying thing, and Philip Barry turned out several in his career. His best-known is probably ThePhiladelphia Story, because of the 1940 MGM film version. But the play is complete and satisfying in and of itself, in a way that plays rarely are anymore - comic, intelligent, and of no particular import. Just an interesting story and sympathetic characters. Gallery Players has again picked an unexpected property, and in many respects done it proud, including the presentation of a full-fledged star performance by Ellen McKeown as the again-to-be-married Tracy Lord.

Barry has actually pulled off an amazing balancing act, pitting characters who should in no way be sympathetic against tabloid reporters who are rightly embarrassed by the snooping they are called upon to do. That everyone manages to learn something, that the comedy is continuous, and that it was mostly a pleasure to be in their company for two-and-a-half hours is no mean feat. Director Shilarna Stokes kept the actors moving, the action clear, and never made her work more important than the play. With a property this strong, her restraint was admirable.

Also admirable was that the direction and acting made no attempt to recreate the movie. With the Katharine Hepburn stamp on the role of Tracy, it can't have been easy for McKeown to play her with many of the required characteristics (haughtiness, strength, disdain, and finally humanity) and yet be so wondrously right in her own way. Eric Engleman had just the right combination of brashness and insecurity to make Mike a trifle obnoxious until he, like Tracy, makes concessions for people's humanity. Their Act Two drunk scene was so beautifully played it was almost a shame they don't end up together. But that would be unbearable for Liz (Elizabeth Mutton), and for the audience as well because of the warmth Mutton brought to the long-suffering character. A major disappointment, though, was the acting style of Matt Semrick as Dexter, Tracy's past and future true love. An unfortunate notch below the others, he was too placid and his manner too pat. The character is certainly sure of himself, but this dynamic Tracy deserved more. Carl Bradley as George, the soon-to-be-ditched fiancé, had almost the opposite problem - until the character revealed his boorishness, he seemed almost able to live up to Tracy. The actor was more suited to her, even if the character wasn't.

Good support was provided by most of the rest of the cast, with an excellent turn by Walter Hauck as Tracy's father. He played it low-key, but was such a strong presence that it was easy to see where Tracy got her strength. The set (Andrew Horn) was a terrific evocation of a Main Line drawing room, as were the costumes (Theresa Squire). 1940s standards were used to good effect (sound uncredited), and the lighting design (Ben Kato) deserved higher marks for intention than execution. McKeown's Tracy deserved to be well-lit, although she would probably glow in the dark.

(Also with Courtney Brinkerhoff, Pauline Walsh, David Keller, Ken Dray, and Bob Doxsey.)

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 David Mackler