Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry - The Shaw Festival

Moya O'Connell as Tracy Lord. Photo by Emily Cooper

Tracy Lord (Moya O'Connell) - sexy, seductive and sophisticated, is an attractive, desirable and a wealthy woman whose extravagant wedding plans to a pompous, self-made man, George Kittredge (Thom Marriott), are complicated by the disquieting presence of her ex-husband, CK Dexter Haven (Gray Powell), and upstart Mike Connor, (Patrick McManus) a sharp-witted journalist ostensibly there to write about the VIP wedding.

Tracy must ultimately choose between doors numbered - 1, 2, and 3, the old game show contest predated by William Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice wherein Portia deals with 3 suitors who must choose correctly from one of three caskets - gold (Kittredge), silver (Connor) and lead (Haven). In Portia's case, her ideal suitor, Bassanio, is clever enough to make the correct choice, and in The Philadelphia Story, it is Tracy herself who makes a prudent choice after a long and anxious pre-nuptial night of drinking champagne, duelling with her level-headed ex-husband, realizing Kittredge's glitter is not pure gold and lustily cavorting with Connor, including a skinny-dip in the silvery, moonlit pool. Strangely, throughout this difficult, labyrinthian process, Tracy deduces that, "The time to make up your mind about people is never."

The character of Tracy Lord was inspired by Helen Hope Montgomery Scott (1905-1995), a Philadelphia socialite known for her hijinks, who married a friend of playwright Philip Barry. Barry wrote The Philadelphia Story specifically for Katharine Hepburn, who not only starred in but also financially backed the play, foregoing a salary in return for a percentage of the play's profits. It enjoyed a year-long run on Broadway before becoming a six-time Oscar nominated film in 1940. Gray Powell as C.K. Dexter Haven, Moya OConnell as Tracy Lord and Tess Benger as Dinah Lord. Photo by David Cooper

From Shaw's talented female ensemble, O'Connell is an ideal choice for this role, a jewel in the crown, a glittering presence, dressed from beginning (jodhpurs and riding boots) to end (wedding dress) in a series of stunning outfits by William Schmuck.

Powell with his passion for racing sleek sailboats and understated charm, acts as a solid beacon for Tracy, and McManus, the inquisitive yet sardonic reporter, is an effective but temporary flirtation. Tess Benger, Tracy's sister Dinah, is the key to the dénouement, with her incessant, yet humorous meddling, inviting Tracy's ex to the house for the big event, which deliberately complicates the marriage plans. Thom Marriott is the prototypical example of the capitalist's arrogant "one percent," not to be saddled with for long, no matter how wealthy.

Sharry Flett as mother Lord is sufficiently sagacious and mannerly just as Juan Chioran is the opposite as the father. Jeff Meadows, the brother, reveals a better understanding of how the real world operates, and Ric Reid is amusing as Uncle Willie, but why should we even care about this bizarre collection of the supercilious upper crust?

It centres entirely on our fascination with O'Connell, who, like Hepburn in the movie, is magnetic on the large Festival stage. And what a beautiful stage, thanks to designer William Schmuck who drew immediate applause with the curtain's rise, assisted by Kevin Lamotte, lighting design director. The lavish treatment and intricate sets and turntables are another dazzling plus in the ongoing eye candy parade headed by O'Connell as Miss Lord.

In his program notes, Schmuck states: "The setting is the late 1930s, in a huge mansion that is part of old Main Line Philadelphia (a group of suburban communities which grew along the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. It was originally built by wealthy industrialists to ease their commute from Philadelphia to their country homes, gentleman farms and summer residences). The Lord family is extremely wealthy, privileged and influential...This play lives in a utopia of wealth and privilege and that is part of the appeal of the story...The interior of the space is a plentitude of gold, silver and white wedding gifts. The decor of the room is also gold and silver and creates an environment where the gifts and the family furnishings blend together. The exterior surround of this impressive house and the manicured grounds are suggested by hanging ribbons which look like Impressionist willow trees. Lighting on these ribbons allows us to show time changing through the story - not only the sunset and sun rises but also the artificial light accenting a beautifully appointed terrace and the suggestion of an illuminated swimming pool beyond the boxwood hedges."

In his director's notes in the program, Dennis Garnhum summaries his take on the play: "Tabloids, paparazzi and public intrusion into private affairs: it's all so seductive and tantalizing. In 1939, Philip Barry was writing about a new trend emerging - a rising interest in reporting for entertainment and escape versus the ever-oppressing news surrounding the Great Depression in America. The world was changing and the private problems of the wealthy class became the curiosity and distraction of the time. Clearly this trend continues."

Also in the program notes, Artistic Director, Jackie Maxwell indicates that "Just as we brought our production of Saint Joan to Chicago, Belle Moral to Ottawa and Topdog/Underdog to Toronto, I am thrilled that this production - directed by Theatre Calgary's Artistic Director Dennis Garnhum - will move to Calgary for a run in winter 2015. Another example of how we are determined to get our work out to new audiences."

Moya OConnell as Tracy Lord and Thom Marriott as George Kittredge. Photo by David Cooper  Moya OConnell as Tracy Lord, Sharry Flett as Margaret Lord, Juan Chioran as Seth Lord and Gray Powell as C.K. Dexter Haven. Photo by Emily Cooper  Patrick McManus as Macaulay (Mike) Connor and Moya OConnell as Tracy Lord. Photo by David Cooper  Sharry Flett as Margaret Lord and Moya OConnell as Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story. Photo by David Cooper   Thom Marriott, Moya OConnell, Fiona Byrne, Gray Powell, Jeff Meadows, Ric Reid and Sharry Flett

The Philadelphia Story
Festival Theatre
May 15 - October 25

2014 Season - Behind the Scenes at The Shaw

The Philadelphia Story promotional trailer

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