Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Stage Manager's love for The Philadelphia Story

I first saw the The Philadelphia Story as a teenager. I fell hard and instantly for the dialogue - spending time with these characters made me feel worldly and intelligent, which I think is exactly how every 16-year-old girl wants to feel. Their words seemed to effervesce around me, a snapshot of American culture in a very interesting time - the sparkly, cultured breath before the plunge into the gritty, rationed waters of the 1940s. But over the years, though my feelings about its themes are complex, I have discovered more and more to love about this story.

Tracy appealed to that younger me in particular. At the time, all I wanted was to surround myself with fast-talking, confident dames in the style of Rosalind Russell - sharp-tongued women who held their own and gave the fellas a run for their money. Don't get me wrong, I still love those scrappy characters, but I now see that what drew me to Katherine Hepburn's portrayal of Tracy Lord was that she's a gentler model of this archetype: strong, but feminine too, and not competing with the boys so much as operating in her own league completely. She's unflappable, but we get to watch her get flapped, and THAT is compelling.

The story behind this play and the subsequent movie also colors and deepens my affection for them - Philip Barry wrote the play for Hepburn specifically to star in after she was labeled "box office poision" and her film career was widely believed to be kaput. She rallied, bought the rights to the movie, starred in it and influenced the rest of the casting.

This play, for me, is about gumption, redemption, and the kind of strength that's tempered with mindfulness and warmth. It's a study of a time and place in our national history - where intelligence, wit and the implementation of these were highly valued. It's about kindness and understanding across social and economic lines - something to think about, in this time of closed borders and partisan everything. It's about giving yourself, and others, a break sometimes. Couldn't we all use that?

- Rachel Dendy