BWW Review: Relaxing HOLIDAY in Wellesley
Written by Philip Barry, Directed by Nora Hussey; Lisa Wondolowski, Stage Manager; Andrea Kennedy Hart, Dramaturge; Graham Edmondson, Light Designer; Nancy Stevenson, Costume Designer; David Towlun, Scenic Designer; George Cooke, Sound Designer
CAST(in alphabetical order): Sarah Barton, Angela Bilkic, Danny Bolton, David Costa, John Davin, Marge Dunn, Lisa Foley, Will Keary, Charlotte Peed, Lewis Wheeler
Performances through February 3 by The Wellesley Summer Theatre Company at Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre in Alumnae Hall on the Wellesley College Campus, Wellesley, MA; Box Office 781-283-2000 or www.wellesleysummertheatre.com
The Wellesley Summer Theatre Company has a corner on the market for staging plays that define the term "comedy of manners." It would appear that they have a storage room filled with period furnishings, such as Victorian settees and Oriental rugs, and they have the best costume designs (by Nancy Stevenson) to evoke the lifestyle of the rich and fussy. Director Nora Hussey regularly reunites an ensemble of actors and actresses who comprise a virtual repertory company. Their familiarity with one another and their surroundings infuses their productions with a relaxed camaraderie that cannot be faked.
Philip Barry's 1928 play Holiday (better known from the 1938 George Cukor film starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant) fits the genre that is WSTC's bread and butter. Set a short time before the onset of the Great Depression in the Fifth Avenue townhouse of the wealthy Seton family, it is the story of a young man's desire to make his fortune early in life so that he can go into the world to really live, on his own terms. He falls in love with the elder daughter of affluent captain of industry Edward Seton (John Davin) and tries to convince them that he is worthy of her despite his unusual goals. Accustomed to dealing with gold diggers, Seton and Julia are flummoxed by this fellow who seems to want very little of what they have.
Returnees Lewis Wheeler and Marge Dunn, and newcomer Angela Bilkic front the cast in the roles of Johnny Case, Julia Seton, and Linda Seton, respectively. Eight out of the ten actors are known to Wellesley audiences, with David Costa (Seton Cram) making his local acting debut, although he has previously worked behind the scenes. The danger in recycling the same actors is conveying a déjà vu effect, so it's nice to see a couple of fresh faces added to the mix, especially since Bilkic acts like a sparkplug to fire up the dramatic energy level and Costa provides some comic relief as the prissy cousin.
Johnny Case is a happy-go-lucky guy who goes against the grain of the society he is trying to enter, but believes in a philosophy of live and let live. He hopes that Julia will want to sign on to his adventure, but he isn't bothered by her father and his ilk grabbing for more brass rings, if it works for them; he simply wants them to understand and accept his druthers. Brother Ned (Will Keary shines in the role), a confirmed tippler, and younger sister Linda, more free-spirited than Julia, take Johnny's side, but it's a toss-up as to whether their support sprouts from their own beliefs or from wanting to needle dear old Dad. Either way, they are welcoming to the fiancé and it makes them likeable as characters.
Cousin Cram and his annoyingly bubbly wife Laura (Lisa Foley) look down their long noses at Case and any semblance of fun. They get their comeuppance at Linda's intimate New Year's Eve dinner party in the family's playroom. It is a world away from the downstairs gathering of several hundred guests hosted by Edward and Julia. The joie de vivre of Linda's good friends Nick and Susan Potter (Danny Bolton, Charlotte Peed) enlivens the scene as they parody their own opulent lifestyle. They provide emotional safe haven for Linda as she tries to pull away from paternal control and redefine herself. With their help and Johnny's influence, she begins to see a way forward that she had not previously imagined.
Wheeler is low key, but appealing, donning Johnny's persona like a comfortable sweater. He gradually peels back layers to reveal an unexpected strength of character, especially in the way he stands up to the glowering Edward and sets boundaries with Julia. There's too much acting visible in Act One by most of The Players, but they tone it down in the second and third act, trusting the characters to show their stripes naturalistically. In subtle ways, Dunn replaces the love struck Julia of the opening scenes with a practical daddy's girl. Davin is the master of bluster, and Bolton and Peed look like they're having lots of fun, even as they wear their hearts on their sleeves. Sarah Barton is feisty in the role of Delia, the maid.
Holiday is a product of its time, but a couple of factors make it interesting and relevant. When Barry wrote it, he couldn't know about the cataclysmic financial crash that would soon occur. As Johnny talks about his plans to live off the money he is accruing in the stock market in January, 1929, our knowledge of what was to happen in October of that year informs our experience of the play and, perhaps, influences our response to how he wants to live his life. The other dynamic at work is the economic realities we face in 2013 and the impact they have on our choices and priorities. Who wouldn't want to retire young and live an examined life, if the money was there? Johnny seems to have figured out that one's genuine life is worth living, with or without the money.
Photo credit: David Costa (Lewis Wheeler, Marge Dunn)