Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Philadelphia Story
The Vortex Theatre
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Rob's review of Traveling with Angels


Michael Weppler, Brennan Foster, Sheridan Johnson, and Micah Linford
Photo by Christy Lopez
I'm pretty sure that if a play like The Philadelphia Story were written now, it would never get on the boards, because it's about rich white people and it has a happy ending. It dares to suggest that the rich are not just parasites on society, but real people with hearts and minds like the rest of us. The difference is, they don't have to worry so much about money. Most of the people in this play have, as one character says, "not too much, just more than enough."

The "one percent" is so vilified now that it's hard to imagine them as being in any way sympathetic. Yet Philip Barry found them so, even as he ridiculed some of their pretensions. He wrote this play in 1939, while the Great Depression was still on. A couple of the characters in the play predict that the wealthy class cannot survive long, that the revolution will come soon. But of course that never happened in the United States, and the play is not as dated as you might expect. Lots of Americans are still fascinated by how the rich, the Kennedys, Hiltons, and Kardashians behave behind closed doors.

Many people know the plot from the 1940 Katharine Hepburn-Cary Grant-Jimmy Stewart movie or the 1956 musical remake High Society. I don't recall having seen either, so I had the advantage of not knowing exactly how things would play out between rich girl Tracy Lord and her three suitors: ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (one of the great character names ever), current fiancé George, and author/journalist Mike. It all takes place on the day before and the day of Tracy's wedding. Will there be a wedding, or won't there? I won't give away too much more.

It starts out as farce, with mixed-up identities and people coming in and out all the time, and the first act does seem a little old-fashioned, trying hard to be funny but only occasionally succeeding. Give it a chance, though, because there's more wit and definitely more depth in the next two acts, and it comes together in a crowd-pleasing ending that even democratic socialists should enjoy.

Director Jim Cady has assembled a great cast, and wisely has not let them imitate anybody from the movie. Sheridan K. Johnson has terrific comic timing as Tracy, and she looks the part, too. Brennan Foster is his usual charming self as Dexter, but with a hint of poignancy, which is exactly what the role calls for. Michael Weppler is excellent as Mike, a guy who starts out despising the people he is supposed to write about and ends up falling in love with one of them. H.K. Phillips is equally good as Liz, the photographer who is paired up with Mike to shoot a magazine story but who would like to pair up with him permanently; the role is not big enough and I wish she had had more time on stage. Micah Linford is very good as George, a coal miner who has worked his way up to managing the company and thinks he can secure his political future by marrying into high society. I liked the irony that George, who thinks that the rich are done for, turns out to be the biggest social climber of all.

Jim Cady's reputation in the Albuquerque theater community is so high (and well-deservedly so) that he can attract excellent actors for even the smaller roles: Philip J. Shortell, Colin Morgan, Micah McCoy, Carolyn Hogan, Annie Elliott, Brian Hansen, Linda Williams. All of these people have had big roles in other shows, but they're willing to show up for less time on stage than usual. Everyone does a fine job.

The all-white set, designed by Jim Cady and built by Thane Kenny and Linda Wilson, is impressive and period perfect. Likewise the costumes by Carolyn Hogan and props by Claudia Mathes and Wynema Gonzagowski. Donna Barra does her typically excellent job of stage managing the large cast.

In the lobby after the play, I was encouraged to hear a young audience member, about 30 years old, tell one of the actors that this was the first live theater he had ever seen, and he enjoyed it so much that he couldn't wait to see his next play. There's hope!

By the way, there is a companion piece of sorts to The Philadelphia Story, but I have discovered that almost no one remembers it. In 1928, Philip Barry wrote a play called Holiday, also about the upper crust, while it was still riding high before the Crash of 1929. It was filmed in 1938 with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, directed by George Cukor. It's a shame that The Philadelphia Story has remained popular while Holiday has slipped into near-oblivion. I've seen both the play and the movie, and if memory serves me, Holiday is even better than The Philadelphia Story. Here's hoping that someone (Jim Cady, I'm looking at you) will revive it for the Albuquerque stage.

The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry, directed by Jim Cady, is being presented at The Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle NE, in Albuquerque. Through March 13, 2016. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets $19 to $22. Info at vortexabq.org or 505-247-8600.


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