BWW Review: GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER at Richardson Theatre Centre
High-minded ideals are put to the test in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, a play with a refreshing yet familiar take on race and interracial relationships. Lunatic Theatre Company put on a rich show, full of humor and sober drama. Despite being written in 1967, this show is just as relevant as it was fifty years ago. The genius of this play is that it has no villains: the characters who have views that we would find unsavory- if not altogether bigoted- are complicated, not two-dimensional. LTC explored these complex issues in a way that was artistic as it was graceful.
Undoubtedly the standout of the night, Patricia E. Hill had the audience doubled over in laughter through her portrayal of Matilda Binks- affectionately known as "Tilly." As the longtime housekeeper, cook, and nanny at the Drayton household, Tilly was truly a member of the family- and as fiercely protective of it as any mother would be. Hill's performance exploded in attitude, whether she was dealing with the ever-changing meal requests or doing her best to banish Dr. John Prentice from the property. In a surprisingly tender moment, Hill stunned the audience with her beautifully rich voice that rang through the theatre as she sang an African Spiritual towards the end of the show.
Gary Anderson and Leigh Wyatt Moore played opposite each other as the couple Matt and Christina Drayton, the parents of the young and optimistic Johanna. Anderson and Moore had great chemistry as a married couple. They played off each other well and their interactions conveyed a strong sense of familiarity. Through their discussions, their complex and nuanced take about their daughter dating an African American unfolded. Anderson in particular delivered a fiery performance as the chief objector to the union- his impassioned speeches revealed deep internal conflict as well as genuine fear for his daughter's safety and well-being.The boldly optimistic Johanna "Joey" Drayton was portrayed by Kennedy O'Kelley. Her striking voice and confident manner of speech added a haughty air to this idealistic character. Her interactions with the others gave you a sense that Johanna ran the house- when really, it's the other characters who are running circles around her. Though O'Kelley's performance was entertaining, it seemed to lack a depth and range present for most of the other actors. Although the audience naturally respects her character for being open-minded enough to date someone outside of her social norm, they also can't help but be frustrated with her for being so naïve about the situation.
The man of the hour- Dr. John Prentice- was masterfully played by Sean Massey. The strength and versatility of this actor was evident in his interactions with each different character with whom he came into contact. Though nothing about the character changes, the audience got to see every internal conflict Prentice had played out onstage by Massey. The tender moments with Johanna, the drily awkward moments with her parents, strained spars with Tilly, and finally, an incredibly powerful moment of defiance with his own father. John's culminated frustration can be summed up in his line from that heated exchange where he shouts, "But you think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man." Playing a character in the lion's den is no easy task, but you wouldn't know that after watching Massey.
Adding coming relief to the show, the wise and wizened Monsignor Ryan was charmingly captured by Budd Mahan. Clearly an old friend of Matt Drayton's, the Monsignor was always making sly jokes at the former's expense. Nevertheless, Monsignor wasn't afraid to tell it like it is. Mahan's calm and confident manner captured how one would expect a contemplative man of faith to behave- and added an unexpectedly delightful mischievous flair as well.
Amusing for different reasons was the superficial Hilary St. George (Carol M. Rice). Overly concerned with appearances, material things, and social status, Hilary was the closest thing to a two-dimensional character this show had to offer. She was an excellent foil to Christina Drayton, who was one of the first to come around to supporting her daughter's relationship.
The audience discovered yet another element to the discussion through Dr. Prentice's parents, Mary (Cheryl Lincoln) and John Sr. (Calvin Gabriel). Though Mary's character was initially more reserved, she came out swinging by the end of the performance. Perhaps even more stubborn than Mr. Drayton, John Sr. was full of righteous indignation at his son's circumstances. The intensity of his pride could be overwhelming, but it was that pride that made his son's resistance all the more powerful, and his resolve to marry the woman he loves all the more commendable.
The set of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was laid out in stylish 1960's fashion. The furnishings and artwork were colorful and appropriate for the era- it truly felt like a home. The costumes were likewise fitting for the time period. Notably, Johanna was decked out in a beautiful, gold and boxy dress with matching hat. One charming touch that RCT included was the music- between scenes and throughout intermission, familiar and upbeat '60s songs played throughout the intimate theatre.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner explored a plethora of issues concerning race and interracial relationships. Concerns over safety, identity, and the well-being of future children played an integral part. Reconciling one's ideals and one's reality, and the conflict that results when you realize that your ideals might have been just that- idealistic- played another. At the end of the day, most characters had arrived at the conclusion that preserving the family dynamic and putting the love of Johanna and Dr. Prentice above personal bias is what mattered.
This is an important show for anyone in 2019 to watch. It is so rare to find a show that explores such a complex and sensitive issue with so much grace- and to see it presented as seamlessly as Director Rachael Lindley was able to do. If you want to see a show that is utterly bursting with life, humor, fear, and truth- you can't miss Guess Who's Coming to Dinner presented by LTC at Richardson Theatre Centre.
Find out more about showtimes and tickets: https://www.richardsontheatrecentre.net/Ticket%20Info.htm