Monday, April 23 , 2018, 12:52 pm | Mostly Cloudy 60º


Gerald Carpenter: Theatre Group at SBCC Opens New Season with ‘High Society’

As the first show of the 2017-18 season, The Theatre Group at Santa Barbara City College will offer the delicious musical High Society with songs by Cole Porter, book by Arthur Kopit and  additional lyrics by Susan Birkenhead.

It is directed by R. Michael Gros with musical direction by David Potter, sets and lighting by Patricia Frank, costumes by Pamela Shaw and choreography by Laura Sue Hiszczynsky. High Society stars Katherine Bottoms and Darren Bluestone (as Tracy Lord and C.K. Dexter Haven) with a cast that includes Deborah Bertling, Alex Coleman, Gregg Hart, Sean Jackson, Marisol Miller-Wave, Claire Perales-Duckworth and Pacomio Sun.

Things are in an uproar at the plush waterfront estate of the Lord family. Eldest daughter Tracy, brilliant and willful, has decided to marry a total Wall Street stiff named George Kittridge, whom the entire family (even Tracy herself, subconsciously) dislikes. As the bride's family, of course, the Lords are stuck with the bill for the wedding, which is to be held at their home.

To make matters considerably worse, a scandal-mongering media mogul has blackmailed the philandering paterfamilias, Seth, into allowing a reporter and cameras to cover the event. Then, who should waltz in suddenly after a long time away but Tracy's ex, C.K. Dexter Haven, the only man she has ever loved — or ever will. Many plans are about to collapse like houses of cards. But "true love" wins in the end.

Once it moved from Broadway to the silver screen, Philip Barry's play The Philadelphia Story became the mother and father of all wedding movies, from Father of the Bride to My Big Fat Greek Wedding and beyond. When it was turned into a musical and filmed in color (as High Society), it became — if possible — even more archetypal.

When he was remaking Billy Wilder's Sabrina (1954), Sydney Pollack told an interviewer: "I wanted to see if the class thing would play now."

Apparently, it didn't, despite good performances by Harrison Ford, Greg Kinnear and Juliette Binoche and much handsome filmmaking by Pollack. The problem was in the original. Wilder was from Vienna, via Paris, and he saw the upper classes in terms of the decadent, shiftless aristos he had known in Europe. He had little knowledge of what used to be called the "Protestant Establishment."

His co-writer and author of the play, Samuel Taylor, was born in Chicago, in modest circumstances; thus, though an excellent screenwriter, he had no firsthand knowledge of the subject. Wilder's Sabrina is remembered as a hit, but it wasn't — again, despite riveting performances by Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn and William Holden. None of it rang true, or felt good.

Pollack would have done better to adapt a Barry play, maybe even The Philadelphia Story. Barry and Cole Porter knew each other at Yale and were both all too familiar with the territory. Each was a social outrider — Barry on account of his Catholicism, and Porter on account of his sexual orientation. They saw their backgrounds with detachment, warmed by affection.

Anyway, "class" is the wrong approach for an American story. Barry's plays are not studies of class conflict; they are about differences of opinion, family feuds, states of grace. On the night before the wedding, Tracy and the reporter, "Mike" Macaulay, get roaring drunk, engage in some light necking and go for a swim. Mike then carries the now-unconscious Tracy to her room and puts her to bed. Coming downstairs from that task, he encounters Dexter and George Kittridge; Dexter knocks him cold. The next morning, George storms over. The wedding is off: "On the very eve of your wedding, an affair with another man!"

Mike gives his account of the evening and stresses that he had not made love to her.

"Why?" Tracy demands. "Was I so unattractive, so distant, so forbidding, or something ... that ... ?"

"You were extremely attractive," Mike says, "and as for distant and forbidding, on the contrary. But you also were a little the worse — or the better — for wine, and there are rules about that."

If this exchange survives in the SBCC production, it should not get a laugh. Those of us who remember the worlds we have lived through will pat our pockets nervously. "Ah, the rules, hmm, now where did I put them?"

High Society previews at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. Thereafter through July 29, it plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Garvin Theatre on the west campus of SBCC (900 block of Cliff Drive). Ticket prices are: previews, $18 general, $15 seniors and $10 students; Thursday evenings and Sunday matinees, $24 general, $19 seniors and $14 students; Friday and Saturday evenings, $26 general, $21 seniors and $17 students. Parking is free and near the theater.

For information or reservations, call the Garvin Theatre box office at 805.965.5935, or purchase tickets online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Maestro, Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Debit

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >