On Theatre: 'Philadelphia' dated, but good performances abound

For the final production of its 50th anniversary season, the Westminster Community Theater has chosen a play whose vintage makes WCT look like the new kid on the block.

Philip Barry's "The Philadelphia Story" first appeared during that brief period of solace between the Great Depression and World War II and has been a staple of community theater diets ever since, bolstered immeasurably by the memorable 1940 movie version with Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart.

It's a story about, to quote the character of a reporter for a scandal sheet magazine, "the privileged class enjoying its privileges." Class warfare seethes through Barry's prickly dialogue, although in this case, the more priggish character is the one that the Brits would call the "commoner."

At WTC, director Kirk Larson has fashioned an enjoyable production, peppered by Barry's stinging witticisms thrust by some capable performers. The play itself is a bit musty after 70 years, but it's not difficult to swallow as a period piece, played in the era that spawned it.

Its centerpiece is the glamorous divorcee Tracy Lord, about to tie the knot again with a more down-to-earth fiancé. Elizabeth Bouton-Summerer, better known as a local musical theater actress, takes a firm hold on this character, whose weakness is the fact that she has none, and delivers a spirited, high-voltage performance.

Drew Fitzsimmons, in the Cary Grant role of her equally moneyed ex, fires off some of the most effective dialogue in the play with a touch of gleeful but restrained irony. Rick Reischman, as the pinko-type journalist-author, strives admirably but comes off less successfully at establishing his prickly character.

One of the most appealing aspects of the production is Valarie Lohman as Tracy's free-spirited younger sister in a sparkling performance. Michael Pierce huffs and puffs effectively as Tracy's self-aggrandizing fiancé, while Eduardo Mora injects a degree of energy as her loquacious but, due to his rapid delivery, occasionally incoherent younger brother.

Both Peggy Free as Reischman's photographer-erstwhile girlfriend and Victoria Miller as Tracy's sophisticated mother have their moments, but could delve deeper into their characters. Tom Hardy elicits chuckles as Tracy's gin-soaked Uncle Willie, while Jim Katapodis impresses as her straying father.

The drawing room setting by Jon Sparks, who also shares costume design duty with Sheridan Cole, is quite effective, suggesting wealth, albeit downscale. Robert Davis and John McQuay contribute nicely on lighting and sound effects, respectively.

"The Philadelphia Story" may be a bit long in the tooth, but its characters remain nuggets of gold to be mined by enterprising performers. There are several of these in evidence at WCT.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Independent.

If You Go

What: "The Philadelphia Story"

Where: Westminster Community Theater, 7272 Maple St., Westminster

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through May 28

Cost: $10 to $17

Information: (714) 527-5546

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