Bold role fits star of Harlequin Productions' 'Philadelphia Story'

Star of Harlequin Productions’ ‘Philadelphia Story’ finds inspiration in Katharine Hepburn’s work

Contributing writerMarch 15, 2013 

For actress Helen Harvester, the role of Tracy Lord in “The Philadelphia Story” is not just another part.

Harvester plays Lord — a role written for Katharine Hepburn — in the Harlequin Productions’ revival of the 1939 classic, in its opening weekend.

When Harlequin Productions’ co-artistic director Linda Whitney asked Harvester what roles she’d always wanted to play, the actress took some time to think about it.

“I’ve always had a great affinity for Katharine Hepburn,” she said. “I love her physicality. This role in particular seems so personal to her, and reading her autobiography and watching the movie again and finally getting a chance to read the play itself, I realized that I personally have a lot in common with this character, as I believe she does. It became very quickly one of those roles that an actress always wants to play.”

Indeed, the role was developed around Hepburn’s own persona of a bold and demanding society woman, strong-willed enough to cause mixed reactions. And the role — which she played in the Broadway hit as well as in the film — revived her then-flagging career.

The play, written by Phillip Barry, centers around the weekend of Lord’s wedding, which brings together a variety of characters with different agendas, including some undercover journalists, and which takes her in direction she never expects to go.

“I love what she goes through,” said Whitney, who’s directing. “She starts out very self-righteous in her views of life. She’s really hard on the people around her.

“She goes through an experience in these 24 hours that breaks her open and makes it possible for her to appreciate everyone’s character flaws, including her own.”

“She’s a headstrong, intelligent, athletic woman who has no sense of the gray in other people,” Harvester said. “She only sees the right and the wrong, and that is something I would say is true of me.”

Although she discovered the play through her interest in Hepburn, Harvester said she makes no attempt to play the role in a similar way.

“The fact that Katharine Hepburn did the part so well is a chance for research on my part, to see someone handle it so well and make great choices, and then I can build off those great choices,” she said.

While the play and film are quite similar in most respects, the play includes an additional character and also has a bit more social commentary, an aspect of the play that Whitney finds particularly intriguing.

“It touches on a number of issues that resonate today — about how we think of the 1 percent and about privacy issues,” she said. “There’s an interesting comment on class.”

She also was attracted to the show by the funny and smart dialog. “It’s a great American play, and I’ve actually always wanted to do it,” she said.

Harvester and Whitney first talked about the show five years ago. Since, Harvester had her first opportunity to play the role, in a production at Bainbridge Performing Arts Center.

And last month, her younger sister Hannah Harvester also played the role in a community theater production in Canton, New York.

In a North Country Now article about the Canton production, Hannah Harvester talked about how the sisters both grew up acting.

“In high school and community theater, there was a bit of rivalry between Helen and me,” Hannah Harvester said. “We looked a lot alike and vied for the same roles.” ‘The Philadelphia Story’

What: Harlequin Productions presents the hit Broadway play that spawned the classic Katharine Hepburn film.

When: 8 tonight and Saturday and March 21-23 and 28-30 and April 4-6; 2 p.m. Sunday and March 24 and 31

Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

Tickets: $32, $28 for seniors and military, $20 for students. Discounted rush tickets are available a half-hour prior to curtain. For the March 20 performance, pay what you can.

More information: 360-786-0151, harlequin productions.org

Also: March 22 is Ladies’ Night Out, with free champagne and truffles for women from 7-7:30 p.m. March 29 is Pride Night, with free snacks and beverages from 7-7:30 p.m. Those special events are offered the second and third Fridays of each run.

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