Hard-working corporate lawyer Johnny Case wants to use an eminent business score to “retire early and work late” so he can experience life. This plan is a surprise to his heiress fiancée, a delight to her rebellious sister, and an anathema to her wealthy banker father. Such is the plot behind Philip Barry’s Holiday, a classic theatrical chestnut that receives a pleasant but understated production from 1st Stage.
Holiday debuted on Broadway in 1928 which explains both the dialogue (Johnny is “swell” when not being “fresh” with his girlfriend) and the generally light tone to this upper class comedy of manners.
The story opens with Johnny Case (John Adams) and Julia Seton (Sophia Bushong) experiencing the delights of a whirlwind love in the ten days since they met on a winter vacation at Lake Placid. Now Case has come to the Seton mansion to meet the family and announce their plans to wed despite the fact that Case lacks the social and financial background to match Julia’s status.
Case immediately bonds with sister Linda (Allison Leigh Corke), whose love for Julia is equaled only by her disdain for the upper class lifestyle. Linda is hungry for romance and adventure and senses a kindred soul in Johnny. She declares that “Life walked into the house this morning” and advises Julia to marry him quickly.
Julia’s father Edward (Paul Douglas Michnewicz) is less enthusiastic about the match, but will begrudgingly go along after learning that Johnny is an up and comer whose career he believes he can orchestrate. Of course, Edward must also ensure that the engagement is announced in a suitable manner, taking over Linda’s planned party for the couple and turning it into a 300 person formal New Year’s Eve extravaganza where Johnny reveals his plans to reap a $25,000 stock profit and leave the workforce, and the personal conflicts heat up.
Adams and Bushong make a sweet and convincing pair early in the play, but their performances face obstacles from the script. Barry stacks the deck in Linda’s favor by giving Julia little opportunity to hold the audience’s sympathy once Julia adopts her father’s conventional values. Johnny’s desire to take time off seems a little empty-headed since the character cannot articulate any aspirations that would merit abandoning a gilded career path, other than maybe going some place where he can swim all day. Neither actor can fully overcome these character challenges.
Worse still, Edward comes off as neither formidable nor convincing. At times the play lacks the witty sparkle it should have, especially when Edward is front and center.
Those shortcomings aside, there are ample reasons to enjoy the play. At the head of the list is Allison Leigh Corke’s terrific performance as Linda. She has a glowing stage presence, handles quips like a veteran, and balances Linda’s emotions in a thoughtful manner. At one climactic moment in the play between Johnny and Edward, Linda’s reactions were far more interesting to observe than those of the characters speaking.
Some of the supporting actors give nice performances as well. The spotlights seem to shine brighter with every entrance of Nick and Susan Potter, the hedonistic couple who inspires Johnny. Theodore M. Snead and Jessica Aimone bring a welcome dose of spirit as the couple who are devoted to joie de vivre.
Ryan Kincaid is emotionally spot on as the damaged younger Seton sibling Ned, who has chosen to withdraw from the race for riches in favor of alcoholic sedation. His soft-spoken scenes with Corke achieve a touching sense of pathos that is a nice counterpoint to the main comedic tone of the work.
Finally, Cheryl Patton Wu contributes another terrific costume design for the show. Even if you have no personal desire to wear spats, she makes it easy to lose yourself in the wealthy period atmosphere of the show.
If you have never seen this classic stage work (or the famous filmed version starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn), the 1st Stage production of Holiday is worth catching. Even if it sometimes lacks the champagne sparkle the play can have, it is far from flat.
Written by Philip Barry
Directed by Dawn McAndrews
Produced by 1st Stage
Reviewed by Steven McKnight