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Theater review: The Philadelphia Story in Saranac Lake

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The Philadelphia Story is currently running in repertory at the Pendragon Theater in Saranac Lake. Resident theater critic Connie Meng was at opening night and has our review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

There are probably a few people that haven't realized that THE PHILADELPHIA STORY by Phillip Barry was a successful play before it became a classic movie and then the movie musical HIGH SOCIETY.  The play holds up well, with strong characters and witty dialogue that somehow doesn't seem dated, even though it's set in the late 1930s.

The production currently running at Pendragon is enjoyable, in spite of weak direction by Sidney Friedman.  There's more to directing than telling the actors where to move, although Mr. Friedman even falls down in that respect, giving young Dinah a poorly timed and muddled exit in the final scene.  Some of the cast are very good actors and are able to help themselves, while the rest are left to flounder in incomplete characterizations.  Drawing room comedy demands a light touch but also a certain amount of realism.

Kent Streed has come up with an excellent set.  Rather than attempting to create the opulence of the Lord mansion, he's used plain black walls with colorful and well-placed furniture and plants.  Bob Pettee's lighting sets it off well, and I liked the idea of projecting the wedding invitation on the back-drop.  Mr. Streed's costumes are also good, with the exception of Mrs. Lord's busy wedding dress.

The cast has its ups and downs.  One of the "ups" is Sophia Bushong as Liz, the photographer.  She handles the sharp dialogue well and gives us hints of the softness beneath the tough-talking exterior.  As Mike, her reporter pal, James Smith does well in the drunk scene, but the director hasn't helped him to reveal his conflicted feelings toward Tracy.  As a result the attraction is unrealistically sudden, leaving the character two dimensional.

As Mrs. Lord, Elaine Kuracina Brehm gives a very good performance and has a nice comic touch.  Keith Walsh plays George, the bridegroom, and is at his best in his Act I scene with Tracy.  After a slow start, Jason Brill as Uncle Willy and Chris McGovern as Mr. Lord both really settled into their characters in Act III.

Matt Sorensen gives us a Sandy Lord that never seems to find the basics of the character.  Kate Pettee, although good in her characterization of Dinah Lord, is very difficult to understand.  It's not a question of volume, but of clarity - another directorial oversight.  Tom Delahant shines and sometimes even twinkles in the role of Edward.

The leading players, Mollie Pietz-Walsh as Tracy Lord and Joseph McLaughlin as Dexter, are both terrific.  They're at home with the style and create strong believable characters.  Miss Pietz-Walsh is especially good in the drunk scene, while Mr. McLaughlin is delightfully low key in his observations and reactions.

Despite the production's flaws, the play is entertaining.  I'm happy to see THE PHILADELPHIA STORY revived.  It's a good choice of a comedy for a summer evening.

On a scale of one to five the Pendragon Theatre production of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY gets three and seven-eighths pine cones.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.  

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