The Philadelphia Story | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Philadelphia Story 

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The Philadelphia Story, Open Eye Productions, at Victory Gardens Theater. It takes perfect acting--the kind found in the movie--to conceal The Philadelphia Story's ugly misogyny. Tracy Lord is a strong woman, and playwright Philip Barry wants her to learn her place. She does so by accepting blame for her father's affair--he was just seeking unconditional daughterly love--and learning to excuse her ex-husband's alcoholism. This makes for romantic comedy only if Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart are playing the romantic triangle.

Emily Albright fares best here, using her patrician looks and voice to capture Tracy's brilliance but also conveying her vulnerability. Tracy's arc is unpersuasive, however, mostly because Daniel Shea as her ex-husband (the Cary Grant role) isn't charming and still in love but smug and still pissed off. Chris Maher has a winning way as Mike Connor, whose attentions thaw the ice maiden, but he succumbs to temptation and apes Stewart down to the inflections. Of the supporting cast, only Matthew Engle shines: he handles his duties as Tracy's brother and the plot engine with rubber-faced finesse. The others flounder, particularly Jennifer Gehr as Tracy's younger sister. A riotous brat in the movie, here she's made grotesque by an obviously adult actress performing in child drag.

It may seem unfair to complain about both excess conformity to the movie and deviation from it, but there's a golden mean. Director Sara R. Sevigny hasn't found it, and the result is a long evening.

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