Lyceum Review/'Philadelphia Story' cast measures up to great film version, offers lesson in humility

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Comparing film and theatrical versions of a work is often unfair but sometimes difficult to resist, especially when the film is a classic.

Last season at the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre the production of "1776" was better than the film version. And this year "The Philadelphia Story" comes within an ace of accomplishing the same feat.

That's saying something.

The 1940 film is listed at No. 44 on the 2007 version of the American Film Institute's all-time best movies and starred some of the best-loved actors in film history: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.

The Lyceum cast is led by Carey Van Driest who plays the role of Tracy Lord, Jeffrey C. Wolf as C.K. Dexter Haven and Ben Nordstrom as Mike Connor. Individually they don't exceed the Hollywood icons who enshrined their roles in American culture, but as a group they infuse the performance with the spirit and energy that helped make the film a classic.

The most impressive performance was the minor but key role of Dinah, played by Emily Pintell, who though older than the character she played brought a delightful spunk and charm to the precocious Dinah.

Dinah is the trigger that sets the plot in motion and though she may at the end inflate her role ("I did it," she says at the end. "I did it all.") she offers an honest and innocent counterpoint to the main characters, who each hide behind a different protective facade: Tracy behind her dramatic bluster, Mike Connor behind his reporter's cynicism, and George Kittredge, Tracy's fiance, played by Lyceum Artistic Director Quin Gresham, behind his newfound 'importance' in the world.

Tracy and Connor, harboring mirror-image snobberies -- she cheerfully condescending toward the working class and he scornful of the rich -- let their guards down long enough (with the aid of a considerable amount of champaign) to learn something about each other and about themselves, and it is through their discoveries that the heart of the play unfolds.

The witty dialogue and extension of the tried-and-true love triangle -- this one becomes a complex love pentagon -- are delightful, but the messages about the value of accepting others, frailties and all, and about how accepting one's own vulnerability helps a person actually become stronger, are what has given the play the substance required to have lasting appeal.

And the Lyceum cast does a wonderful job keeping the audience laughing while delivering those messages effectively.

Contact Eric Crump at

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