Hildy Johnson gets the story and the guy in La Jolla Playhouse production
If you go
■ What: ‘His Girl Friday’
■ When: Matinees, evenings May 28-June 30
■ Where: Mandell Weiss Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, UC San Diego campus
■ Tickets: $24-$59
■ Box Office: (858) 550-1010
■ Web: LaJollaPlayhouse.org
By Diana Saenger
The 1940s was a time when women often needed to work and had to make the choice between home and career. It made for the perfect conflict in the newsroom, too. Jenn Lyon (Broadway’s “Shipwreck,” “Salvage”) takes on the role of Hildy, a hardcore newswoman who will stop at nothing to get the story in “His Girl Friday,” opening the 2013- 2014 Season at the La Jolla Playhouse on May 28.
Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley directs the production, adapted by John Guare (“Six Degrees of Separation”) from the Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur play, “The Front Page,” and the Columbia Pictures’ film, “His Girl Friday,” starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.
“Hildy is such a dynamite role and a dream role for any actress,” Lyon said. “To be the smartest and toughest one in the room, the most compassionate, and do physical comedy and wear a fantastic hat, what more could you ask for?”
Lyon said she appreciates how Guare blended the work of two playwrights with that of the screenwriter. “It’s a wonderful working hybrid of what worked in both the play and film,” she said. “It’s set on the eve of WWII, which brings in Hitler and America’s early isolationist stance. It reflects how it all ties into standing up for the little guy because we (America) were not involved in the war yet.”
One of the charms of all the productions was the rapid-fire dialogue between the leads. Lyon had to do tongue exercises to get up to speed, but also followed director Ashley’s advice.
“He said it’s not about talking fast, but thinking fast. If you amp up the energy in which you respond, the speed will follow suit; and in those instances, it wasn’t rude to take over each other.”
Conflict and romance between sparring couples has been at the heart of many movies and this was another key element in the “His Girl Friday” productions. Lyon labels Hildy and Walter (Douglas Sills) as “extreme bulldogs.”
“The romance is still very strong in this play, but there is a love and hate relationship,” Lyon said. “They are ferocious about getting the story and loving one another, and they don’t do anything
halfway. When it comes to getting what they want, they are perfectly matched for each other. They’re like two forces of nature, and when they meet, it’s like a tornado.”
Lyon said she absolutely loves her character. “Hildy’s the smartest girl in room, but portrays herself as one of the boys. With alacrity, she will tackle a man physically to bring him down to get a story. She is a beast. I just love her and hope a little of Hildy rubs off on me. I’m usually afraid to ask for what I need, but Hildy goes after what she wants
without a thought if she deserves it, because she knows she does.”
Lyon said she believes the audience will feel nostalgic about this time in America and will love hearing the typewriters click, the telephones ringing, and the way the reporters vie to get the scoop that is very different from the way today’s media works to give us our news so quickly.
“It’s a wonderfully funny and touching wild ride, and theater- goers will fall in love with these characters,” Lyon promised.
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