Comedy spotlights madcap antics of ‘the privileged’
March 6, 2012

When LaGrange College Theatre’s production of “The Philadelphia Story” opens on March 15, it will feel like life coming full circle for Laura Hennesy.

Laura, a senior theatre arts major from Douglas, has been a fan of the film and its star Katharine Hepburn for as long as she can remember.

“I grew up in a tiny town, so I watched a lot of old movies,” she said. “I worshipped her and Elizabeth Taylor.”

One of Laura’s all-time favorite films is “The Philadelphia Story,” starring Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.

“I watched it so much that I know it backward and forward.”

Now, years later, Laura will take the stage in Hepburn’s iconic role as Tracy Lord in the college’s own production of “The Philadelphia Story.”

The 1939 American comedy by Philip Barry  tells the story of a socialite whose wedding plans are put into jeopardy when her ex-husband, an attractive journalist and her estranged father suddenly appear.

Barry wrote the play specifically for Hepburn, who had been proclaimed “box-office poison” in Hollywood. She ended up backing the production and foregoing a salary in return for a percentage of the play’s profits. With the help of her friend Howard Hughes, she obtained the movie rights, and cinematic history was made.

Ashleigh Poteat, Assistant Professor and Costume Designer, also is serving as set designer for the production. She says it has been fun because the show is about “the privileged class enjoying its privileges."

“As a costume and scenic designer, it’s wonderful,” she said. “For a play like this – a light comedy of manners – it’s important that the costumes and scenery stay on that plane.”

The costuming has been a particular joy, she said.

“The 1930s were perhaps the most lovely time period in modern fashion,” Poteat said. “It was an age of glamour and feminine beauty that shows off curves and slim figures. The clothes were glorious.”

A play’s costumes help the audience identify the characters – who they are, how old they are, how rich they are and how much we should like them.

“But they also help the actors connect with their characters,” Poteat said. “In a way, putting on a costume is like putting on a second skin and becoming that person.”

Laura concurs.

“Our costumes are gorgeous,” she said. “It makes it easier to get into character when you are wearing such beautiful dresses.”

After some experience backstage doing makeup, most recently for “Sweeney Todd,” junior Mary Hannah Robertson is finally onstage, playing Tracy’s 15-year-old sister, Dinah.

“She’s usually played much younger,” Mary Hannah said, “but I’m playing her with the real attitude of a teenager. I have to play her right on the cusp of brattiness. There is a sense of Nancy Drew about her, and she likes to get into everyone else’s business. She’s a lot of fun to play.”

Tracy’s ex-husband, Dexter, is being portrayed by freshman Tyler Williams. This isn’t Ty’s first experience on the stage of Price Theater, though. In 2002, he played Joe in “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.” 

Soon afterward, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving for five years. He is back in school, and enjoying his return to the theater.

The role of George, Tracy’s fiancé, is being portrayed by senior D.J. Grooms.

“In George’s mind, he is in love with Tracy, but then he does something that makes him an outcast in their world,” D.J. said.

Director Tracy Riggs, Theatre Arts Instructor, is quick to point out that there are no “bad guys” in this play.

“They all have their own journeys to take,” she said. “The (older) adults in this play are the ones who represent wisdom.”

They include Dr. Maranah Sauter, Professor of Nursing, who plays Tracy’s mother Margaret. This is her first foray into theater, but she said she has had some experience in the mothering department.

“I have been working on this mom thing for the past 25 years so I am counting on that experience to carry over into this role,” she said. “The theater students are incredible and I am learning so much watching them. I have a new appreciation for what goes on in the LaGrange College Theatre Department. Exceptional work from a small but extraordinary theatre faculty and staff combined with the dedication and talent of these students is nothing short of amazing.”

Dr. John Williams, Professor of English, takes on the comic role of Uncle Willie Tracy.

“My role is small but I like to think of it as a service to the talented kids who are carrying the show,” he said. “They are really good and a great joy to work with.  Tracy is doing an excellent job, and as always it’s fascinating to watch a coherent dramatic whole materialize from the mists of chaos.”

Tom Pirkle, husband of the Director of Alumni and Community Relations Martha Pirkle, plays Seth Lord, Tracy’s philandering father.

“I’ve been out of acting for 25 or 30 years, so I’m a little rusty,” he said. “That first rehearsal was pure terror. But I’m having such a good time with this cast and crew. It’s going to be a great show.”

Poteat described the comedy as a kind of “sorbet.”

“After all of the dark heaviness from ‘Sweeney Todd’ and the depth and emotions of ‘Lovers,’ this is just that final touch – cleaning the palate and leaving a light, sweet taste that has you ready to come back and see next season.”

“The Philadelphia Story” runs at 7:30 p.m. March 15–17 and March 22–24, with a 2:30 p.m. matinee on March 18. Tickets at $15 for adults and $10 for non-LaGrange College students and senior citizens are available at the Price Theater box office from noon to 4 p.m. weekdays and go on sale March 8. Faculty and staff admission is free but tickets must be reserved in advance. For more information, call the box office at (706) 880-8080 or email priceboxoffice@lagrange.edu .

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