Holiday is a classic for good reason (and not just because there are two classic film versions of it: a 1930 adaptation with Mary Astor, and the 1938 über-classic edition with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant); it’s about two competing versions of the American Dream. One version, exemplified by Julia Seton (played with cold perfection by Chloë Edmonson) and her father Edward (Nate Beal) is a grasping, empty life of conforming to social expectations, the most important of which is the accumulation of more wealth. This unquenchable thirst for lucre is contrasted with the all-American humility of Julia’s erstwhile fiancé, Johnny Case (Graeme Baxter), who just wants enough money to take a break from the endless hard work he’s been doing since he was 10. Johnny has a plan to make just enough money to take his holiday, but love (of course) complicates matters because Julia isn’t quite the kind of girl who would settle for $30K, a trip to Europe, and a little picket fence.
Lucky for Johnny, Julia’s got a free-spirited sister, Linda (Rachel Spencer) whose aspirations sound suspiciously similar to Johnny’s. Linda is a falcon trapped in a gilded cage and it’ll take a good three acts to break her out of prison and land her and Johnny on the Love Boat. And Linda’s clipped wings are nothing compared to her brother Ned (Robby Glass), a flightless bird whose sole means of escape is alcoholic oblivion.
Spencer and Baxter carry the show ably: Baxter’s affable virtuosity blends well with Spencer’s remarkable range. They move gracefully from comedy to romance and over to witty banter, not so cool as to undercut the heart, and not so mushy as to make the satire unbelievable. They are ably supported along the way, especially by the sweet and lively Stephen Brown and Meaghan Golden as Johnny and Linda’s life-of-the-party friends Nick and Susan Potter, and by Austin Whelan’s befuddled Seton Cram, who makes blandness interesting to watch. Seton’s beautiful buzz-kill of a wife, Laura, is brought to vivid Technicolor life by Kaitlyn Jones, who clearly knows how to silence a room and look great doing it.
The production’s design is opulent but not ornate. Tasteful elegance dominates the well-integrated scenery and costumes, and everything leans toward a regal blue color that is easy on the eyes. Kristin Crouch directs the comedy with cool precision and an eye for the warmth underneath it all. The physicality is never forced, and makes sense even when slightly stylized.
Holiday is as dramatically apposite now as it was nearly 80 years ago. In an era when keeping up with the Joneses means that we must drive around in 4-wheeled urban recreation centers or be labeled social lepers, we might do well to make like Johnny Case and question what it costs our souls to “keep up” with the Setons. Or we can just admire the pretty outfits, laugh at the funny jokes, and have our cockles warmed by the thought that love will always find a way.
William Razavi also saw Higher Planes at Jump-Start last weekend. Read his review at Sacurrent.com.