In celebration of their 30th season, Green Bay’s Evergreen theater group is starting off their fall season with a classic, Audrey Hepburn cinematic vehicle, The Philadelphia Story. The filmed version has a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, citing a “witty script, excellent direction and lead performance,” and critic consensus labels it an “unqualified classic.” It seems like little wonder, considering the star power involved. The original 1940’s film, featured James Stewart, Cary Grant, and Katherine Hepburn.
Evergreen’s returning director, Darby Kern, suggested the original play was specifically written for Hepburn.
“Historically there are a lot of strange things,” Darby said “that make me wonder why she wanted to do the play that revived her career. At the time of the play she was knocking boots with Spencer Tracy, which nobody appreciated.”
When her friend, the author, Phillip Barry wrote a story about a girl with the name making a big mistake in romance, it was hardly a coincidence.
But this came at a time that Hepburn was in trouble and considered by many, “box office poison.” The success of The Philadelphia Story is credited with saving her career, and according to Bill Sergott, the stage manager and Evergreen identity chairman, the work hasn’t lost a step.
“I watched it not that long ago,” Bill said “but I laughed more at our read-through; you know just eight people sitting around a table, reading the lines cold; than anything than I did watching the movie. We can’t believe the talent of the cast. And we don’t say that every time.”
The entire Evergreen crew seems keen on how well the piece has weathered the intervening years. In fact The Philedelphia Story has effectively become a period piece, apparently without losing it’s edge. It’s a romantic comedy, centered a young divorcee, caught up with her new fiancee, her ex and a journalist: the divorced love interest being a common conceit around the 40’s thanks to a production code that forbid adultery on the big screen.
“The Lordes are a very wealthy Philidelphia family, “according to Evergreen’s President Kathy Treenkler. “They come from old money. It’s set at a time when becoming famous, just for being famous was a pretty new thing. They weren’t worried about keeping up with the Joneses…they are the Joneses.”
Mr. Sergott told us his favorite part about the humor is how intelligent it is.
“Sometimes it’s clever enough, it can take a bit to click,” Bill said. “We used to call them joke grenades in improv comedy, where you get it like a line or two later! And comedy manifests itself with the interaction between characters focusing on personality, not slapstick. But half the fun at the rehearsal is watching the actors bring the characters to life. The mannerisms of the actors on stage alone were enough to draw laughter.”
“Money just has so much to do with it,” Darby added “and prestige and class. All these kinds of things that people kind of hate nowadays. And yet there’s so much humor within it. And without putting too fine a point on it: this cast is fantastic. They are.”
Perhaps it takes a cast this good to take advantage of the opportunity a play like The Philidelphia Story presents.
Alex Sabine is the actor taking on the George Kitteredge role.
“The not-often seen part of theater,” Alex said “written most a century ago, leaves a large amount of interpretation for the players on the stage, and the director to work their own vision into a piece.”
This is one gem that looks to shine as Evergreen picks it off the dusty shelf. Look for them on the St. Norbert’s Webb Theater stage September 18-20, and the following weekend, September 24-26.