SALT LAKE CITY — I sat happily through the production of A Philadelphia Story, at the Pioneer Theater Company, making notes to later compose my review. I didn’t have to think too hard, except to translate some of the 1930’s slang. Then the main character Tracy Lord woke up, on her wedding day, and the events that followed perplexed me enormously. I did not expect the ending of this show, and I still feel as though I’m grasping at straws.
Tracy is about to begin her second marriage when the play begins; the wedding will take place the next day. But her ex-husband and an intriguing reporter surprisingly arrive on scene. So Tracy has three enticing men to choose between, two of which barely crossed my mind as an option. But after Tracy made her choice, it was clear that I didn’t understand Philip Barry’s story the way many others in the audience must have.
Director Jenn Thompson created a beautiful show. The environment of the Lord household was vast, immaculate, and decorated. I enjoyed the symbolic enormity of the home, which dwarfed the characters in the opening. The elegant staircase, as well, delivered the heavenly Tracy to the populace below. Portraits on the walls and pretty floral arrangements added another layer to set designer Wilson Chin’s set, which I appreciated. Also beautifully decked out were the actors. The men wore their pants in a much-too-high 1930’s fashion and the ladies shined and shimmered. Also pleasing were the matching hues used in the party scene and the (impending) wedding scene. My favorite costumes by David Toser were Margaret’s gold party dress, Tracy’s pants/blouse combo, and Dinah’s overalls. Margaret’s perfectly curled hair, too, was lovely (hair and makeup design by Amanda French). Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting design was nice. I noticed the lighting in the outdoor scenes, which felt like genuine sunshine, beaming down from the back left of the stage. As it got later in the day for the characters, I was happy to feel the “sun” setting. The closing image of Act I was just exquisitely set and lit.
Allison McLemore was an excellent lead in her performance of Tracy. She was terrifically versatile, carrying herself like a queen, overacting and gesticulating, retreating into herself, and flinging words like knives. I could not have asked more of her. It appears that I liked her too much, and missed the fact that Tracy needed to change. I admired her when she berated her father and saw her as justified in leaving Dexter; so when Tracy apologizes for or reverses these actions, I didn’t understand, and still do not. I liked Tracy, and I saw her as the “good guy.”
Dexter Haven, Tracy’s ex-husband, was a drunk, according to the lines I’d heard in the play. And most things he said seemed to be jabs at Tracy, attempting to rile things up. So why would I see value in his criticism of her character? I didn’t consider him a candidate for Tracy’s love because I never saw any chemistry between them. I thought his dark suit jacket, compared to fiancé George’s lighter shade, was a symbolic indication of his devil’s advocate role. Tracy’s father, Seth Lord, was a similar character. Anderson Matthews played Seth Lord in such a high-and-mighty way; he showed no regret or penitence for cheating on his wife. And he blamed Tracy for his mistakes. I felt Tracy was blameless, and as I said, the opinions I formed turned out to be incorrect.
Dexter is a very clever character, and Todd Gerhart’s comedic timing was wonderful in the last scenes of the show. I liked Todd Lawson as Mike Connor, as well; his scenes with Tracy were some of my favorites. His connection to Tracy was the only one that I saw, of all the “suitors,” and I was put off when those scenes and that emotion were brushed aside by Barry. The entirety of the plot still doesn’t sit well with me, logically. But each actor did a commendable job. I enjoyed Tracy’s little sister Dinah (Bailee Johnson) and her Uncle Willy (Bill Nabel) especially. Johnson was such comedic relief in that starched environment of wealth and adults. Her coy responses, and innocent protesting made me smile so much. Nabel, as Uncle Willy, was her perfect partner in crime. I loved his booming voice and loveable nature.
I wonder if I’m alone in my perception of this show; I felt almost robbed by Barry’s twists and turns. But I am clear in my opinion that it was well-crafted and interesting. Pioneer Theater Company has put on a beautiful production.