Theatre Review: Evergreen Performs “The Philadelphia Story”

BY BENJAMIN K. PAPLHAM

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Sometimes I think iPods are redundant since I usually have a soundtrack playing in my head already. The first week of school, the most popular song from my brain’s playlist was Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” and, after viewing Evergreen’s performance of “The Philadelphia Story,” the song stuck on constant loop is Genesis’ “Land of Confusion.”

But I digress.

Evergreen Productions is a community theatre in its thirtieth year. On Sept. 18 to 20 and 24 to 26, director Darby Kern and company presented the romantic comedy, “The Philadelphia Story,” a Philip Barry play that inspired the 1940 Oscar-winning film. The plot centers on the wealthy Tracy Lord (played by Amanda Cormican) and her sudden doubts preceding her marriage to George Kittredge (Alex Sabin). Her doubts are magnified when ex-husband C. K. Dexter Haven (Andrew Delaurelle) and a pair of tabloid reporters arrive, stirring up enough trouble worthy of a Shakespeare comedy.

Confusion lies at the heart of “The Philadelphia Story.” The play endeavors to create an ambiguously complex character analysis of Tracy, compiling judgments from the supporting cast for the audience to marinate in. These perceptions range from aggressively harsh to excessively admiring, enveloping viewers in a mask of uncertainty as to Tracy’s true nature. At times, I sympathize in Tracy’s indignity at unfair and—sometimes—sexist opinions bestowed upon her by men like Haven and even her own father. Other moments, however, I am frustrated and critical of Tracy’s actions, leaving me wondering whether or not there is some truth—a bloated truth, undoubtedly—of others’ disapproval.

Tracy herself is not convinced of her own nature and one of the major themes relates to the façade that she adorns. Is she naïve? Is she wicked? Is she a goddess? Perhaps a bit of all three, but Tracy’s inability to define her own character is nonetheless the driving comedic and dramatic influence.

Much of my own confusion is based on the events of the third and final act—which I will not detail, for sake of treacherous spoilers. What I will say is that in between the slick dialogue of implicit meanings and subtle jabs, a witty tension builds up to Tracy’s decision on love and marriage. That decision is…confusing. And it felt confusing not in the manner of an intellectual spark but rather of an illogical disparity in Tracy’s actions.

I do not believe it is Kern or the script’s intention to be confusing (or maybe it was, which would mean the satire went completely over my head). My theory is that it was the actors’ choices that created the confusion. It isn’t that the actors are poor—they all did a terrific job—but the impressions the audience receives from the dialogue and characterization do not coincide with the reaction Tracy has at the end. I almost believe the play would have made more sense if Sabin and Delaurelle had switched roles, because, if their characters’ personalities had been flipped, it would have made the ending more conducive.

The confusion left me quite disappointed, because the play builds up a wonderful momentum leading into the third act. The opening fifteen minutes was choppy, and the energy of the actors felt depleted. Actors seemed to wait for their next line instead of receiving it naturally, creating an uncontrolled pacing. The introduction of the two reporters helped immensely, as their presence contained a naturally humorous plot point. Once the audience laughed a bit more, I sensed the actors feeling more at ease as well. From then until the third act, the timing and delivery was extremely crisp, the blocking of the actors felt more fluid and the chemistry among the actors felt real.

Overall, I have a favorable outlook on Evergreen’s performance of “The Philadelphia Story.” The acting was smooth, the set design was charming and I enjoyed the color coordination of the costuming and the lighting. Unfortunately, the ending really, really nags at me and brings the play down a star, but it’s nothing so egregious as to prevent me from liking it—even if I am somewhat confused.

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