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UNCG restages a Broadway hit

by Keith Barber

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It could by argued that Philip Barry’s 1928 Broadway hit Holiday capitalized on the success of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which made its Broadway debut in 1926. It was the Roaring ’20s and theatergoers appeared to be fascinated by the lives of the rich and famous. Holiday was adapted into a 1938 George Cukor film starring Katharine Hepburn as Linda Seton and Cary Grant as Johnny Case. The most recent revival of Holiday in 1995 starred Laura Linney in the leading role played by Hepburn nearly 60 years earlier. UNCG’s Theatre Department and director Jim Fisher should be commended for taking on such a renowned Broadway play. UNCG’s production of Holiday, performed at the Brown Building Theater, finished its two-week run on Sunday, Nov. 9. Joby Lee Strachan gives a solid performance as Linda Seton, the eldest of two wealthy sisters, who yearns for a more fulfilling, less conventional life. Joshua Yoder portrays Johnny Case with a grit and determination characteristic of a young man who has pulled himself out of poverty and made his own way in the big city. Commitment to the craft is essential for any actor and Strachan and Yoder exhibit enormous potential, especially when it’s just the two of them working together. Speaking of the stage, UNCG Theater’s minimalist approach to set decoration for Holiday works extremely well despite the affluent setting of the Seton mansion in Manhattan. Julia Seton, played by Isabelle Gardo, sets the wheels in motion after she meets Johnny Case during a ski vacation at Lake Placid. Gardo puts her whole heart into her portrayal of Julia. Despite Julia’s character being written as a bit twodimensional, Gardo manages a well-rounded performance. Like Strachan and Yoder, Gardo shines in her scenes. The story opens with Julia bringing Johnny home to meet the family. Julia is concerned about her father’s reaction to a young man not born into privilege; a man whose family is not listed in the social register. The theme of class conflict evokes thoughts of a number of Hollywood films, including the 1960 classic From the Terrace starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. From the Terrace tells the story of an ambitious social climber (Paul Newman) who becomes disillusioned with the attainment wealth and power. Similarly, Johnny Case tells Linda he’s reached a crossroads in his life, and he’s beginning to question what it’s all about. “I want to take some time to find out why I’m working,” Johnny says to Linda. “I want to take some time while I’m young.” Like Paul Newman’s character, Johnny comes to realize that he’s not living the life for which he had hoped. In Linda, he finds a kindred spirit, and the attraction is clear. However, loyalty and a sense of duty to family provide a sizable obstacle for Johnny and Linda to overcome. Edward Seton, Jr., played with great aplomb by Jason Scott Quinn, is the incarnation of the rigid class structure much more in evidence 80 years ago than today. For Julia, everything hinges on her father’s approval, whereas for Linda, she objects to nearly everything her dad stands for. Nick Potter, played with Jimmy Carrey-like hyperkinetic verve by Chris Wright, and his wife, Susan, played by Meghan Hoffman, offer Johnny and Linda a glimpse of the road less traveled. The Potters choose to remain outsiders to the social order of the day, and relish the freedom that results from that choice. To no one’s surprise, the Potters appear to be the happiest, most content characters in the drama. Johnny seeks the courage to emulate the Potters, but is torn by his ambition. Julia is conflicted by her feelings for Johnny and her sense of loyalty to her younger sister. Strachan does a marvelous job portraying a woman with a whole lot simmering just beneath the surface. At one point, Strachan keeps the audience hanging on the edge of its collective seat as she appears ready to burst into flames during the first two acts. When Linda finally lets go, a lifetime of heartache and frustration come pouring out, and the audience visibly exhales. Seton Cram, played by Justin Biegger, represents the greed and avarice Johnny Case rejects, and Laura Cram, played by Elizabeth Pigg, represents the pretentiousness Linda despises. Shay Lydick, who portrays Bridget, the family’s housekeeper, serves as narrator. This storytelling device, a staple of 1920s Broadway, appears a bit superfluous, and slows the action of the story. In the Brown Building Theatre, the Holiday cast makes the most of its restricted space, taking advantage of the building’s corridors for off-stage action. All in all, UNCG’s production of Holiday is an enthusiastic, entertaining Broadway revival. Philip Barry’s dialogue is not the easiest to master but the entire cast manages to pull it off with ease and grace. Barry, known mostly for the film version of his play The Philadelphia Story, would surely be proud to see his work alive and well and being performed by the marvelously talented cast assembled by Jim Fisher in yet another outstanding production by UNCG Theatre.

To comment on this story, e-mail Keith T. Barber at keith@yesweekly.com.

Joshua Yoder and Joby Lee Strachan as Johnny Case and Linda Seton in the UNCG production of Holiday. (photo courtesy UNCG)

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