The Philadelphia Story, by Philip Barry, was written while tabloid journalism was still in its infancy and after the Great Depression, when newspapers were not typically focused on covering sensationalist stories. Directed by Dennis Garnhum, this production demonstrates that not much has changed in terms of tabloid journalism. We oftentimes find ourselves watching or reading about celebrities and thinking “why?” But this is nothing new. People love scandal. It sells. And as mean as it sounds, tabloid readers get pleasure in knowing that they are not a part of this scandalous realm and that these crazy stories will probably never happen to them, and if they do, they will certainly not be publicized to the same extent. Think of the delightful, upper-class Tracy Lord (Moya O’Connell) as an old-fashioned Kim Kardashian. We never know when she’s going to screw up next, but we cannot wait to find out. And just like Tracy, her recent wedding was quite the conversation piece. This play welcomes us to the beauty of the tabloids.
When journalists Macaulay Connor (Patrick McManus) and Liz Imbrie (Fiona Byrne), arrive at the Lords’ house to cover Tracy’s second marriage, the Lords are in a panic. But noone is able to foresee all of the chaos that will actually occur, despite their efforts to stop it. With Tracy’s fiancé, George (Thom Marriott), her ex-husband, Dexter (Gray Powell), and her new love interest, all in the same house, this wedding is sure to be “The Philadelphia Story”. Just perhaps not the one anybody expected it to be…
Designer William Schmuck plays with that feeling of awe we get when we look at a celebrity’s home or a celebrity wedding. It is stunning, expensive, and probably far from what we are used to seeing. As the curtain rises to reveal the set of a gorgeously detailed suburban mansion with all the trimmings, the audience applauds in appreciation. Definitely tabloid worthy. Schmuck, you hit the mark.
Moving on to the acting, I am convinced that Moya O’Connell could play the role of a pizza box and amaze her audiences. With several very different leading roles, season after season, she never ceases to command the stage and own her character with every aspect of her being. She is always a pleasure to watch, and this show is no different. Tracy is a complex character who is in the process of discovering who she is and what she wants. O’Connell amps up the uncertainty, the unhappiness and the carelessness that develops over the course of the play, leading the audience through the whirlwind that is her mind. She plays the “beautiful disaster” with ease.
Unfortunately, I was slightly disappointed with the performance of Tess Benger as Dinah Lord. She is high-energy and engaging, as the rest of the cast, but there is something forced about the character. It also doesn’t help that she looks, and is, much older than Dinah is supposed to be, and she is faced with a greater challenge, as a result. She must completely own the child-like innocence in order to make it believable. Right now, I’m not buying it.
Aside from this, The Philadelphia Story is a riot, and has the audience peeping into this elite household, waiting for Tracy to shock the press. And like most celebrities, she is sure to provide a story that the press just never saw coming.
The Philadelphia Story is playing at Shaw’s Festival Theatre until October 25th. For tickets and more information, visit www.shawfest.com.