LONDON/Theater: Before it was a movie, "The Philadelphia Story" was a 1939 play, and such a well-constructed one that it can withstand the absence of Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart. In its present incarnation at the Old Vic there is only one total star performance-the Old Vic artistic director, Kevin Spacey, as C.K. Dexter Haven-and that's reason enough to see this production of playwright Philip Barry's comic battle of words on Philadelphia's Main Line. John Lee Beatty's elaborate sets and Tom Rand's glamorous costumes are more than add-ons-they set the tone of an otherwise low-key production by director Jerry Zaks. As Tracy Lord, the once-married icemaiden who finally melts and marries again, Jennifer Ehle wisely doesn't try to surpass or even to remind us of Katherine Hepburn. But her leisurely delivery of her character's American aristo wisecracks isn't quite to the manor born. Although there are fine performances by Julia McKenzie (as Tracy's mother), the gravel-voiced Nicholas Le Provost (as Uncle Willie Tracy) and D.W. Moffat (as Macaulay 'Mike' Connor), Mr. Spacey alone has that quality, and the feeling for comedy, that allows an actor to quote the body language of Groucho Marx and W.C. Fields, while being completely himself. (Mr. Spacey, currently replaced by Adrian Lukis, returns Aug. 8 for 28 performances.)
Next, 15th May, Sunday Telegraph, Susan Irvine.
The Philadelphia Story revived Katherine Hepburn's career, first on stage, and then in the film version with Cary Grant and James Stewart. She casts a long shadow, but Jennifer Ehle, all pink and gold and exuding noblesse oblige in her satin evening pyjamas, dismisses Hepburn's ghost with a shake of her supershiny hair. Her repartee quivers with an edge of self-mocking desperation, yet she patronises God superbly. "Good for you, God," she purrs when the deity delivers a spot of sunshine. Kevin Spacey as her first husband, C. K. Dexter Haven, circles puck-like in her orbit, jabbing in wisecracks at the "virgin goddess". In a play like this, such a woman must come off her pedestal, but the landing is soft. And respectability in the guise of morality is upheld, since the price of her tumble is a barely-sinful "two kisses and a rather late swim". A delightful evening of urbane entertainment, delicious as a glass of champagne.