CHAUTAUQUA - The Chautauqua Theater Company offers a bright and very funny look at our country as it was in 1940, with their opening production of the 2012 season: Philip Barry's "The Philadelphia Story."
Something was wrong with the air-conditioning Saturday evening and the audience was baking like a Thanksgiving turkey, yet they laughed loud and often, and all but a handful stayed through both intermissions, to greet the ending with an enthusiastic standing ovation.
The play begins the day before the planned wedding of a beautiful young Philadelphia socialite named Tracy Lord. Despite her youth, Tracy is on her second wedding, having married and divorced her childhood boyfriend in less than a year. The gorgeous set, which revolves to represent both the inside and the outside of the elegant Lord home was a perfect incarnation of a home for people who are fabulously rich, yet it proclaimed their humanity as well. It was designed by Tom Buderwitz.
Her new fiancee is a ''man of the people,'' a former coal miner who has become a principal executive in Tracy's father's business, and frankly, no one else in her family can stand him. Her younger sister, Dinah, who makes Dennis the Menace seem quiet and cooperative, makes the first moves to break up the wedding. Then Tracy's first husband, who clearly still loves her joins the fray. Finally a reporter and a photographer for a gossip tabloid move into the guest rooms, at first hiding their reason for being at the wedding.
Director Andrew Borba does a wonderful job of making these people with their beautiful clothes and a way of life which doesn't exist any more, seem real and making us care very much about them and what happens to them.
Tracy Christensen is the designer of those beautiful clothes, by the way.
Carolyn Holding was an elegant and patrician Tracy. She needed to cope with many people's memory of Katharine Hepburn, for whom the role was written, and the part is full of little manners of speech and movement which raise the ghost of Ms. Hepburn, yet Ms. Holding found her own way to the character, and managed to be wonderfully funny, while she was at it.
Molly Bernard, playing a character younger than herself, did a fine job as the bratty younger sister, slyly tweaking the noses of everyone without losing our sympathy.
Max Roll was winning as the reporter who arrives with a chip on his shoulder, wanting to bring down these undeserving rich people and learning that there are fine people and horrible people in all classes. Kelsey Didion was charming as his photographer.
Dave Quay was smooth and charming as C.K. Dexter Haven, Tracy's first husband, who lost the love of his life in the bottom of a cocktail glass. It wasn't hard to root for him, when he decided he'd do better if he got a second chance.
Praise is deserved by the entire cast.
I had a wonderful time, laughed often, and found myself delighted visually as well as audibly. I recommend the production to you with gusto.
The production continues through July 8, at the Bratton Family Theater, on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution.