Pioneer Theatre Company's production of The Philadelphia Story is a pleasant distraction from the winter weather and the stress of everyday life.
The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry was adapted into a classic film version in 1940, starring Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant. It shows the frantic and confusing weekend of Tracy Lord, who is a well-to-do divorcee in Philadelphia preparing for her wedding. Her plans are complicated when her ex-husband appears, along with two reporters tasked with digging up dirt on her family.
The play and film are beloved due to the colorful characters, wry humor, and unconventional plot points. However, many of the proceedings and relationships feel very contrived, even to the uninitiated.
Allison McLemore commands the stage as Tracy Lord. Her presence is a force to be reckoned with, and she is certainly believable as the pillar around which the many plot machinations turn. Her method of speech is true to the period and the character's class. However, the bombastic style of her performance often gets in the way of the vulnerability needed to generate audience empathy.
Todd Lawson as reporter Mike Connor does a marvelous job of inhabiting his character with just the right mix of humor and gravitas. He shows a range of emotions while ensuring that he is grounded in believability. He always seems to be a real-life person reacting to the happenings around him.
Other memorable performances include Joyce Cohen as Tracy's mother, Margaret Lord, and Margaret Nichols as Mike's partner, Liz Imbrie. Both are wonderful actors and have the vocal and physical mannerisms of the era down pat.
The sound (designed by Matthew Tibbs), while impressive in that the performers don't wear personal mics, is simply not loud enough. Large portions of the dialogue are too quiet or muddled to the point that many audience members can't hear them. This is quite a shame and will hopefully be rectified for future productions.
The scenic design by Wilson Chin provides both a realistic interior and exterior for the Lord estate with minimal set movement required. The details of the setting provide a great environment in which the story can unfold.
The Philadelphia Story plays through January 26, 2013. For tickets, call the box office at 801-581-6961 or visit www.pioneertheatre.org.
Photo Credit: Todd Lawson (Mike Conner) and Allison McLemore (Tracy Lord). Photo by Alexander Weisman.