Philadelphia Story

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A: Philip Barry Pf: 1939, New York Pb: 1939 G: Com. in 3 acts S: Mansion outside Philadelphia, June 1939 C: 8m, 7fTracy Lord, a wealthy and beautiful divorcee, is about to remarry. Her fiancé George Kitteredge, although he began as a coal miner, is now an insufferable rich snob, but seems an improvement on her first husband C. K. Dexter Haven, whom she divorced for ‘cruelty and drunkenness’. Destiny magazine is invited to cover the wedding to divert the society columns from her father's scandalous affair with a dancer in New York. Tracy becomes infatuated with their reporter Macaulay (Mike) Connor, a liberal and sensitive writer. Her ex-husband Dexter and her father arrive uninvited for the wedding and sting Tracy with their searching comments about her priggish attitude, her father declaring her ‘a perennial spinster, however many marriages’. In defiance, she gets drunk and swims naked in the pool with Mike, who is too honourable to take advantage of her. When confronted the next morning by her stuffy fiancé, she recognizes the hollowness of her forthcoming marriage. Having learnt new tolerance and understanding, she resolves that the marriage should go ahead – with ex-husband Dexter as her groom.

A: Philip Barry Pf: 1939, New York Pb: 1939 G: Com. in 3 acts S: Mansion outside Philadelphia, June 1939 C: 8m, 7f

In the guise of his most popular comedy, Barry explored the tensions in American society between (usually new-found) wealth and wider humane understanding (a seam that is still being mined, as in James Cameron's film The Titanic). The play, which has echoes of Coward's Private Lives, was written mainly as a vehicle for Katharine Hepburn, who reprised the role in a film version with Cary Grant and James Stewart. It formed the basis for the musical High Society (1956).

Subjects: Theatre — Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

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