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Playhouse cast tells its own 'Philadelphia Story'

Sitting on a terrace just after dusk in downtown Duluth, Tracy Lord and her three beaux -- that's Carolyn Dick, Drew Autio, Rob Larson and Abraham Curran -- talked about the play they're in, "The Philadelphia Story," the classic tale of class war...

Sitting on a terrace just after dusk in downtown Duluth, Tracy Lord and her three beaux -- that's Carolyn Dick, Drew Autio, Rob Larson and Abraham Curran -- talked about the play they're in, "The Philadelphia Story," the classic tale of class warfare overlaid with domestic warfare.

Most famously produced as the 1936 movie with Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, "The Philadelphia Story" will open tonight at the Duluth Playhouse in the Depot, directed by Molly O'Neill.

The actors have just come from rehearsal and their characters still are present. "I'm a strong person," said George Kittredge, Tracy's self-made-man fiancΓ©, in the person of Rob Larson. "I worship this girl, but she's surrounded by people with biting wit. ... I've worked my way up to where girls like that, families like that, old money, would talk to me ... but I'm sheepish, off balance, in that company."

"Men must have been stronger then, or less self-aware," said Larson, stepping into his own voice again. "Because he's in a lion's den, but he doesn't leave until he's forced out."

Larson is up to the challenge of playing the guy people disdain on stage: "The better the show gets, the more awkward it'll be up there for me."

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Drew Autio next brought up the different kind of man who is the rich and rakish C.K. Dexter Haven, Tracy's first husband, on hand to pick up the pieces: "I think he's just helping her through this very awkward moment with us three guys ... Tracy has a hard shell, that you only see past when it's broken . . ." He interrupted himself to apologize to Carolyn Dick, who plays Tracy.

"I do try to find the ways I'm like the character," said Dick. "Josie in 'Moon for the Misbegotten' [her last role] and Tracy both have issues with vulnerability -- they hide behind a tough shell."

"Dexter and I think a lot of the same things," responds Autio. "It's just that he can say them and I can't."

Just then several heads pop out of the window in the hotel tower above us. "Hey, come on up!" they're shouting, among other things.

"They always yell out the windows here," says Abraham Curran -- or is it McCauley "Mike" Connor, the acid-tongued journalist who falls for Tracy? "And they always seem to yell the wrong room number."

"You've gone up there?" asked an incredulous George/Rob.

"Well, if you ask a perfect stranger to your room, you must be a nice person ... Minnesota nice."

"I wonder," statedDexter/Drew dryly, "if they have been drinking."

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The banter on the terrace bears out this young cast's quick wit. And the ensuing discussion of what it means to play a period piece fresh, and the difference between the famous movie and the play, reinforce the sense that these are serious actors. Opening night should be good.

ANN KLEFSTAD covers arts and entertainment for the Duluth News Tribune. Read her blog, Makers, at duluth.com, and at Area Voices on duluthnewstribune.com. Reach her at aklefstad@duluthnews.com .

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