WST‘s ‘Holiday’ a sharp, witty, entertaining evening

 

Angela Bilkic, Lewis Wheeler and Marge Dunn in “Holiday.”

Angela Bilkic, Lewis Wheeler and Marge Dunn in “Holiday.”

WELLESLEY — Wellesley Summer Theatre is one of the best-kept theatrical secrets in the Greater Boston area..
Director Nora Hussey has assembled what amounts to a small professional repertory company at Wellesley College, with the pros augmented by Wellesley students. WST has staged 40 productions since 1998 in the summer and during the students’ winter break.
Those who make the trek to the intimate Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre on the grounds of beautiful Wellesley College are usually richly rewarded for their time and effort.
WST’s latest effort is Philip Barry’s comedy “Holiday,” now through Feb. 3.
The play by the author of “The Philadelphia Story” was made into a 1938 film starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, and, fortunately, there is more than a little of the iconic Mr. Grant in the redoubtable Lewis Wheeler.
It is December 1928, just before the onset of the Great Depression, and Wheeler plays dashing young Johnny Case, who has brought himself up by the bootstraps into the world of corporate law, and now is set to marry glamorous Julia Seton (Marge Dunn), the daughter of wealthy New York City banker Edward Seton (John Davin).
Edward, a widower who presides over a household of three grown three children in his Fifth Avenue townhouse, objects to both the marriage and the couple’s decision to marry quickly. He doesn’t know much about Johnny, and fears that Johnny just may be seeking an entrée into a world of leisure and wealth in the upper reaches of the New York City society of the Roaring Twenties.
Johnny himself has raised Julia’s suspicions by commenting on her family’s wealth and how “convenient” it is.
Julia has accepted her family’s lifestyle and her own position in society, but sister Linda (Angela Bilkic) thinks differently about her family and its values. “Money is our God,”
she admits.
Linda is also less reticent than her father to see the best in Johnny, and urges Julia to seal the deal before Johnny gets away.
“Stand your ground, Julia,” says Linda. She decides to throw her sister an intimate New Year’s Eve dinner party in honor of her engagement, but due to the intervention of Julia and Edward, the party becomes a monstrous mess.
Edward warms to Johnny when he learns that Johnny is closing on a business deal that will make him $25,000, enough to support his daughter in the style to which she is accustomed, but Johnny himself throws a monkey wrench into the possible marriage.
He reveals that once his deal goes through, he plans to forsake the corporate world. He is unwilling to trade success and security for the rewards of a life lived on his own terms.
In this case, one big deal will set him up not for other big deals, but to live life the way he wants to live it.
Julia and Edward are flummoxed. Julia knows what she wants and she’s not about to compromise and Edward knows nothing else but nose to the grindstone.
Director Hussey is not about to let Wellesley students Dunn and Bilkic fall below the level set by the professionals, and she succeeds.
Her “Holiday” sets a darker tone than the film and other productions, perhaps by emphasizing the effects that the behavior of the imperious Edward has had on his children and his late wife. Will Neary is Ned Seton, the hard-drinking brother who would love to see the world the same way as the free-thinking Linda does but has been beaten down by his father and escapes into a bottle.
Danny Bolton and Charlotte Peed are a hoot as Nick and Susan Potter, a fun-loving couple on seemingly permanent vacation who inspire Johnny to live his life to the fullest.
There is also able support from David Costa as a money-grubbing cousin and Lisa Foley as his eclectic wife Laura, and Sarah Barton as a much put-upon maid.
There is a lovely detailed set by David Towlum, and Nancy Stevenson’s period costumes and hairstyles ring true.
“Holiday” was written at the outset at the Great Depression, a time when the Roaring Twenties were still booming. Still, Barry is telling us maybe Johnny is right, there is more to life than money and the pursuit of it, even though Barry himself was the product of an entitled upbringing.
Whatever his motive, this “Holiday” is a top-notch evening of entertainment skillfully presented.
The Wellesley Summer Theatre production of Philip Barry’s “Holiday.” Directed by Nora Hussey. At the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre in Alumnae Hall at Wellesley College through Feb. 3. www.wellesleysummertheatre.com

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