By PAM HARBAUGH
Old is new again with Mad Cow Theatre’s polished and winning production of “The Philadelphia Story.”
Directed exquisitely by Aradhana Tiwari, designed to perfection by marvelous artists including scenic designer William Elliott, and brought to life by a top-notch cast led by the stunning Piper Rae Patterson, this production shimmers. It’s got all the high society style, frothy repartee, witty zingers and warm human touch you expect from this 1939 Philip Barry classic.
Mr. Barry’s stage comedy, which became a 1940 movie starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart, is set in the living room wealthy Seth Lord’s country home outside Philadelphia. As family prepares for the next day’s wedding between daughter Tracy Lord and up and comer George Kittredge,complications arise when Tracy’s first husband, Dexter, arrives. Also coming onto the scene are reporters Mike Connor and Liz Imbrie to cover the wedding, considered to be the social event of the season.
Ms. Patterson disappears into her role of Tracy Lord. She oozes that “je ne sais quoi” unwittingly enjoyed by the very rich. But she smartly restrains that flighty air just enough to reveal a deeper quality to Tracy — a need to be madly in love. She and Dexter, portrayed as a bon vivant with a heart by Brian Brightman, reminisce about their sail boat, the “True Love,” they enjoyed during their short-lived marriage. “She was yar, alright. I wasn’t, was I?” Tracy says, while Brian looks at her, aching with love.
Robert Johnston continues to show such an acting range. In the past, he’s won hearts as romantic Fabrizio in “The Light in the Piazza” and gotten under our skin as prideful Dakin in “The History Boys.” Here, he charms as everyman reporter Mike Connor, a would-be writer who is quickly taken in by Tracy’s charisma but doesn’t even notice Liz’s admiration for him.
Becky Eck is delightful as Liz Imbrie, the would-be painter who takes tabloid photographs for a living. She’s got a sweet intensity on stage that’s both dignified and compelling. Scott Edwin Lake makes a fine George Kittredge, the uptight, ambitious man who needs a proper wife at his side.
Taking on the fun (and unusual) role of young Dinah Lord is Kennedy Joy Foristall, who just came off her winning performance as Scout in Orlando Shakes’ “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Like she was as Scout, Ms. Foristall shows that the stage fits her like a glove.
In addition, the design team makes it all look just so doggoned tony. Mr. Elliott uses offstage dramatic space to extend the reaches of Mad Cow’s limited stage and polishes the set with exacting details — from the wood paneled floors to the marble fireplace. Costume coordinator Danielle Paccione flawlessly brings us back to the 1930s both in color palette and style. Michael Powers and Ms. Tiwari also create an evocative sound design.
Erin Miner’s artful lighting design is at its delicious best in the moment when Tracy stands, at night, bathed in a soft, textured light, radiant, as Mike says to her “There is a magnificence in you…You’re lit from within. Full of life and warmth…”
The problem is that all the beautiful production values, the snappy repartee and lively action can sometime distract from the dialogue. So you have to listen carefully to the storyline’s complicated sidebar about Seth Lord’s dalliance with another woman and the tabloid magazine for which the reporters work. Otherwise, you’ll be wondering what all that is about.
Here’s hoping you make the time to see Mad Cow Theatre’s “The Philadelphia Story.” And here’s hoping other theaters realize what a gold mind lies within.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “The Philadelphia Story” runs through April 19. Curtain is 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, Thursdays, and Monday, April 13; and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Talk-backs are scheduled for April 5, 12, 16 and 19. Tickets are $24.25 to $36.75. Call 407-297-8788 or visit www.MadCowTheatre.com.