BWW Interview: Jordon Ross Weinhold of THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER at Ephrata Performing Arts Center
Imagine a dinner guest unexpectedly confined to your house for a month. Now, imagine that your dinner guest turned house guest is an eccentric, over-the-top celebrity with a host of outlandish friends who turn your household upside down. Welcome to the world created by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart in The Man Who Came to Dinner. This three-act comedy premiered at the Music Box Theater in New York City in 1939. It has since been made into two movies, one in 1942 and one in 1972, and has enjoyed several revivals. What is it about this 1939 play that takes place in Ohio in the late 1930s that keeps audiences laughing from generation to generation? Actor Jordon Ross Weinhold, who plays Banjo in Ephrata Performing Arts Center's production of The Man Who Came to Dinner, gives us some insights.
BWW: Tell us a little about yourself and about how you got into theatre.
Weinhold: I am a local professional actor and also orchestrator for a theater, so I wear many hats. When I was little, I didn't have a lot of interests...that sounds a little cliché...but I also was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. There just wasn't a lot that interested me, and it was hard trying to find ways to cope with having that disability. Luckily, I had a wonderful mother and grandmother who exposed me to theatre. They took me to shows as the Fulton. I think the first production I remember seeing was Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella in the 90s, which Ed Fernandez, EPAC's Artistic Director, actually directed. That was the first show that I remember. Right when I was exposed to theatre, I caught the bug very quickly. And the rest is history. I've been doing theatre non-stop ever since. I went to school for it at Point Park-that's where I discovered that I could also orchestrate music. Theatre and music has really been my life, professionally and personally.
BWW: This show was first seen on stage in 1939 and takes place in the 1930s. What aspects of it do you think will appeal most to modern audiences?
Weinhold: I think audiences will be surprised with how familiar they are with the style of humor. Yes, it takes place in the 1930s, that is the technology and fashion of the world of the play, but when you listen to the dialogue and the set up for some of the jokes, it's not that different from sitcoms. It's kind of like Seinfeld or Frasier. I think audiences will find out really quickly that, even though it's a 1930s play, it's something they're familiar with. I think they'll find themselves thinking "I know this style." That's something the cast discovered very quickly.
BWW: This play is filled with humor. Without giving away too much of the plot, what is your favorite humorous part of the show?
Weinhold: Normally, I'd say myself because I'm the wackiest character, really. But I think it's hysterical that Sheridan brings in these convicts for dinner-some are murderers and serial killers, and they are brought to the house for lunch. That's just one of the fun eccentricities about Sheridan Whiteside-he can make anything sound fun and be fun.
BWW: In the original, the character of Banjo is modeled after Harpo Marx. Have you followed this tradition, and if so, how?
Weinhold: It didn't start out that way, but I think I've ended up doing a lot of that Marx Brothers style comedy. At first, because I've done a lot of comedic roles, I think it was the original intention or assumption that I would just model it after me in a way. But the more I work on the role, the more I realize that I'm doing a lot of the physical comedy like the Marx Brothers. Luckily, I've been trained in a lot of dance though I wouldn't consider myself a dancer-I would be shocked to hear anyone consider me a dancer. But a lot of my dance training from youth helps because of that physical comedy. I do some dance movements throughout, so I find that with each rehearsal I am doing a throwback to the Marx Brothers.
BWW: How does Banjo know Sheridan Whiteside?
Weinhold: He's part of Sheridan Whiteside's band of Hollywood elite-they are buds. I don't know how they met, but I think they are besties. I think they've known each other a long time. Sheridan Whiteside may have done a piece on Banjo-it's never discovered in the play, but they are life-long friends.
BWW: Banjo is a television comedian-who is your favorite comedian today and why?
Weinhold: It's interesting-Banjo is more of a Hollywood motion picture type of comedian-in today's terms he is probably like Jim Carey or Will Farrell. But just in terms of good old-fashioned comedy, I love John Mulaney-his humor is very relatable, and it's about people struggling day to day-I love that. For a Hollywood film comedian, I love Peter Sellers, especially in movies like The Pink Panther.
BWW: How do you think you would react if you had to host a man like Sheridan Whiteside as a house guest?
Weinhold: I would love it. I love that character. Any opportunity to host a dinner for Sheridan Whiteside, sign me up! I think some of that is because I'm an actor playing an actor-I would naturally like him.
BWW: Talk to us a little about how The Man Who Came to Dinner exemplifies the 2019 season at EPAC, which seeks to "explore how the class and political system in which we live can shape and define us."
Weinhold: I'd say this play is probably the lightest for this season, but it is a story about the Hollywood elite versus the middle class. It is about two worlds colliding, done in a very funny way. You have all these Hollywood people who cause mayhem in this middle-class family.
BWW: If someone were going to write a comedy play about your life, what would the title be?
Weinhold: How about "28 and Trying". I really do mean that. I've been very fortunate to have a great life, and I am very happy with the outcome so far. But, I will say, I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, and my whole life I've just been trying one day at a time. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's hilarious.
BWW: Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know?
Weinhold: If you want to be entertained, laugh, and not have to actually think about what's going on in your life, come see The Man Who Came to Dinner. It's not offensive, it's age appropriate for everyone, and it's just a delight.
Get your tickets for an evening of fun and laughter at Ephrata Performing Arts Center's production of The Man Who Came to Dinner. The show runs September 5-14, and tickets can be purchased at www.ephrataperformingartscenter.com.