Philip Barry was one of the more popular and successful American playwrights of the 1920s and 1930s. He wrote more than twenty plays, but is best remembered for The Philadelphia Story, a comedy of manners set in Philadelphia high society during the late 1930s.
Tracy Lord, the wealthy heroine of The Philadelphia Story, divorces her husband, C.K. Dexter Haven, and is about to marry a man named George Kittredge. However, their wedding preparations are interrupted by meddlesome reporters, her ex-husband, and her estranged father; she is also disconcerted by the growing realization that she still has feelings for her ex-husband, Dexter. Amidst the situation comedy and fast-paced dialogue, Barry explores several contemporary social issues, such as society’s perception of class differences in America and contemporary attitudes towards adultery and divorce.
The play was enthusiastically reviewed by critics and enjoyed a successful Broadway run for over a year. During that period, more people saw The Philadelphia Story than had seen all of Barry’s other plays combined. In fact, the success of the play effectively rescued the troubled Shubert Theater in New York (otherwise known as the Theater Guild) from bankruptcy. Barry had written the role especially for the actress Katherine Hepburn, and the play’s success simultaneously launched Hepburn’s career on the stage and film.
The Philadelphia Story has remained a popular staple of regional theater companies since its debut. Although social attitudes towards adultery and divorce have changed, the play endures because of its compelling characterization of Tracy Lord, a young woman whose self-discoveries still speak to younger generations of theatergoers and movie fans.