The Philadelphia Story

by Philip Barry

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Act I The play opens with an intimate family scene between the long-suffering Margaret Lord and her two daughters, Tracy and Dinah. The three women are busy planning Tracy’s wedding to George Kittredge. She is marrying in style, with a prenuptial party and a stylish reception for five hundred people.

When Tracy briefly exits, Dinah tells her mother that Dexter is in town. Dinah is clearly fond of Dexter, and seems to regret her sister’s divorce. Later in the scene, Dinah telephones Dexter and issues him an invitation to the festivities.

Tracy’s impending marriage and her past alliance are discussed in light of the failed marriage of her parents. Tracy despises her father for his poor treatment of her mother, but her mother tends to blame herself. Their disagreement seems to parallel Tracy’s attitude towards her own failed first marriage. Was her first husband, Dexter, at fault? Or was she? Should she be more forgiving, like her mother? Tracy dismisses the idea of shared blame, commenting that she and her mother ‘‘just picked the wrong first husbands.’’

Tracy exits. Dinah has been proofreading; she now reveals that the proof sheets are a magazine story about her father’s adultery. Dinah innocently believes the story is false; Margaret inadvertently reveals that the story is true.

Sandy, Tracy’s elder brother, arrives. He works as an editor at The Saturday Evening Post. Margaret asks him whether the story can be stopped. Tracy learns about the story. Sandy announces that he has ‘‘fixed’’ the problem: instead of printing the story, the magazine will instead cover Tracy’s wedding. Tracy is furious with this ‘‘trade’’ to ‘‘save’’ her ‘‘Father’s face,’’ pointing out that he doesn’t deserve it. Yet she agrees to cooperate.

Tracy realizes that the reporters will suspect something is suspicious when her father is not present for the wedding. (Tracy has refused to invite him.) Sandy responds by saying that he already thought of this possibility and arranged a telegram announcing that their father cannot attend the wedding due to illness. This is not good enough for Tracy: she decides to pretend that her Uncle Willie is her father and that her family is a bunch of pretentious snobs.

Liz Imbrie and Mike Connor arrive to write the story. Dinah greets them, speaking in French and singing ditties. Mike concludes that she is ‘‘an idiot . . . They happen in the best of families, especially the best.’’

Tracy enters and dismisses her sister, then proceeds to play out the even more ridiculous part of charming, flattering hostess. When Mike says, ‘‘I’m ’Mike’ to my friends,’’ Tracy replies, all sweetness and light, ‘‘Of whom you have many, I’m sure.’’ Her interrogative manner takes Liz and Mike by surprise.

Tracy reenters with Kittredge and introduces him. Uncle Willie arrives, and Tracy pretends he is her ‘‘Papa!’’ Unexpectedly, Dexter arrives. The charade is further complicated when Tracy’s real father, Seth, arrives. She promptly pretends that he is Uncle Willie.

Act II As Act II opens, Mike and Liz provide another perspective on Lord family history. After Liz leaves with Uncle Willie, Tracy enters and strikes up a conversation with Mike. She has read Mike’s books and enjoyed them, and they soon realize they understand each other in unexpected ways.

When Mike explains that he is a reporter in order to support his career as a writer, Tracy generously offers him the use of her country cottage, but he ungraciously refuses. ‘‘Well, you see—er—you see the idea of artists having a patron has more or less gone out [of fashion].’’

Suddenly, Dexter appears. The atmosphere becomes tense...

(This entire section contains 1337 words.)

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as Dexter jokes about his poor treatment of Tracy in the past and then criticizes Tracy in front of Mike. He accuses her of being insensitive to his alcoholism and impatient with ‘‘any kind of human imperfection.’’

Obviously uncomfortable, Mike exits. Continuing his conversation with Tracy, Dexter criticizes Kittredge, arguing that ‘‘he’s just not for you.’’

Kittredge enters and Dexter leaves. Their conversation makes it clear that many of Dexter’s statements are true. Kittredge views Tracy as ‘‘marvelous, distant . . . cool’’ and feels she possesses ‘‘a kind of beautiful purity.’’ He wants ‘‘to build’’ her ‘‘an ivory tower with my own two hands.’’

It seems that Kittredge may indeed not be the right man for Tracy, who wants to be ‘‘really loved,’’ not ‘‘worshipped.’’ This is even more apparent when Kittredge voices his approval for the Destiny magazine article.

Kittredge exits, and Margaret and Seth enter. Tracy confronts her father about his infidelity. Her mother insists that the only person it concerns is Seth, who then responds, ‘‘That’s very wise of you, Margaret. What most wives won’t seem to realize is that their husband’s philandering—particularly the middle-aged kind—has nothing to do with them.’’

Incredulous, Tracy questions her father’s statement. Seth replies that he was reluctant to ‘‘grow old’’ and wishes he had ‘‘the right kind of daughter . . . One who loves him blindly.’’ Without such a daughter, he claims, ‘‘he’s inclined to go in search of it . . .’’ In short, he blames her for his affair.

Liz and Mike try to reveal that they are in fact from Destiny magazine. Their attempt is foiled by the arrival of the telegram announcing Seth’s sickness. The subsequent confusion makes clear to Mike and Liz that the Lords have been duplicitous.

Uncle Willie and Seth resume their correct identities, and the entire group leaves for the prenuptial party. As they exit, however, Tracy gulps down a glass of champagne, and pours herself another.

Act II Scene II takes place in the early hours of the morning after the pre-nuptial party. Sandy and Tracy, both drunk, scheme to write an expose of Destiny’s publisher, Sidney Kidd, in order to blackmail him into stopping the story about the wedding.

During the course of their conversation it becomes clear that Tracy is very drunk and that she has already spent two hours alone with Mike that evening. Mike, who imagines himself in love with Tracy, then enters, and Sandy exits to write the article on Kidd.

Tracy and Mike flirt. Mike delights Tracy by proclaiming that he sees her as ‘‘made of flesh and blood . . . full of love and warmth.’’ She is pleased and relieved that a man finally sees her as warmly human rather than as a remote goddess. They kiss, then run off to the swimming pool for a naked dip.

Sandy and Liz enter. Sandy has already guessed that Liz is in love with Mike, and asks her why she doesn’t marry him. Liz replies that ‘‘he’s still got a lot to learn, and I don’t want to get in his way yet.’’ Liz leaves, and Dexter enters.

Sandy hints that there may be ‘‘complications’’ to the wedding. Kittredge enters and Dexter hints that Tracy and Mike may be interested in each other. Mike enters, with Tracy in his arms. Kittredge is horrified to realize that ‘‘she—she hasn’t any clothes on!’’ Mike carries her up to bed then returns. Dexter knocks him down before Kittredge can.

Act III Uncle Willie and Dinah misinterpret Mike’s presence in Tracy’s bedroom. At first, she does not remember her escapades, but starts to recall her behavior. Tracy, forced to realize that she has ‘‘feet of clay,’’ apologizes to her father for her unforgiving attitude.

Mike enters and Tracy explains that she is not interested in him. She mistakenly believes that they have slept together. Tracy confesses her misbehavior to her ex-husband. He reveals that Kittredge left a note for her; Tracy is relieved to find out that he has broken off the wedding.

Kittredge appears and says that he will go ahead with the marriage if she can offer him an explanation. Tracy refuses and contemptuously dismisses him. However, a wedding does go ahead: the play ends with Tracy, who finally feels ‘‘like a human being,’’ remarrying Dexter.