The telling of the period piece, The Philadelphia Story, began nearly 30 years ago for Tom Kaechele. At the beginning of graduate school, Tom first planted his roots in the scene shop. The Philadelphia Story was his first play as a college grad student and where he fell in love with the story. And then there is the Norma Brink connection. Tom cherishes the script that once belonged to Grand Rapids theatre royalty, Norma Brink. She was the star in this play for the newly formed Circle Theatre. In fact, this was the first performance for the theatre then located at the Pantlind Hotel (now Amway Grand Plaza Hotel). So when Tom was approached to direct Civic Theatre’s 2017 production, it was nostalgia that made him say yes. Now for the first time in Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s history, guest director Tom Kaechele will present West Michigan with “a blending of nostalgia through a contemporary eye.”
An interview with guest director, Tom Kaechele
Tell us about the story.
It is a romantic piece with humor but not a comedy. I want people to feel charmed by these characters. They are very human in a way that transcends from 1939 to today. The family is affluent and so they attract the paparazzi’s attention. That seems to be something that transcends generations, people enjoy getting a glimpse of the ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’. As we watch them prepare for the upcoming wedding, we as an audience see that this position of wealth and fame gives them very little else to do other than having to deal with each other.
How scandalous was the story when first performed in 1940 compared to now?
Tracy Lord was a woman ahead of her time. She shows her legs by wearing shorts and she goes skinny dipping, which in 1940 probably received a lot of attention. But in other ways, nothing has changed. Tracy’s antics gain attention from the paparazzi and the naughtier she is the more they exploit the behavior. There is a very good chance Tracy Lord of today would have a reality show and be followed on social media my thousands of strangers.
How do you feel women were looked upon when this was first written?
In the story, there is an implication that Tracy’s divorce was caused because her husband was overbearing and inflexible. Through much of the script there is an attitude that women are suppose to take whatever is given to them. Tracy is the counterbalance to those thoughts. She is strong, confident and has a vision for her life. She is very different than her mother, who accepts the very public fact that her husband is having an affair.
What is it like to direct a piece from this era?
The script is the original story, which means it is dated in pace. Apparently audiences and actors enjoyed excessive use of the English language, so I have had to do some trimming to keep the show flowing. That is my role as director: to keep things on the stage moving and flowing in order to bring out the best in each actor.
We have set the period as 1939 but this isn’t a museum; you are not going to explore the artifacts of days gone by. I want people, like my mom who was alive in the 40s, to remember the past but not feel they are reliving it. This is a period piece as told through a contemporary lens. It will speak to audiences of all ages because ultimately this is a love story told from the perspective of a woman in charge.
We are telling the story of Tracy Lord who is being pursued by three great guys, but she has only one right choice.