A romantic rigmarole at NYSTI

When Mary Jane Hansen first started working with the New York State Theater Institute as an intern while she was a student at Russell Sage College, she wasn't completely comfortable.

She was young and unsure of herself, she said. In fact, that was one reason she liked acting: She could slip into the skin of another person.

It's always clicked with me, she said. "I felt I could offer more in this way."

As Hansen got older, though, she grew more self-assured and found she had a lot to offer, too. She was drawn to her charcter of Tracy Lord in NYSTI's ucoming production of "The Philadelphia Story" because she embarks on a similar journey of self-discovery.

"She's a real human being," Hansen said. "She has her awkward moments."

Those awkward moments center around her lovelife. In "The Philadelphia Story," which debuts at NYSTI on Friday, April 25, and runs through Sunday, May 3, Lord is about to be married in 1930s Philadelphia. Complicating matters are her ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven, and Macaulay (Mike) Connor, a reporter assigned to cover the wedding for the society page.

The script didn't exactly resonate with Hansen when she first read it.

"I thought, we're going to do a play about rich people, isn't that cute," she said sarcastically.

But the script was deeper than she realized. As Lord struggles with her competing love interests, she finds an inner strength.

"It shows we all have the opportunity to shine and show our character," Hansen said.

While all the male attention weighs on Lord, her younger sister, Dinah, delights in it. She gets word that Tracy may have had an affair and joyously spreads the hearsay.

"She's the one with all the gossip," said Eleah Jayne Peal, a sophomore at Columbia High School who plays Dinah. "She's spunky. She certainly isn't shy, which kind of sounds like me."

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