BWW Review: Welcome MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER at Actors Co-op
Kaufman and Hart's broad satire on the bizarre world of internationally famous critic Alexander Woollcott, here called Sheridan Whiteside (Greg Martin), when his egocentric life collides with the day to day humdrum lives of the Stanley family of Mesalia, Ohio in 1936 is rarely produced due to its large cast of wildly divergent characters and dated humor. Funny it is, exceedingly funny, but only to those who understand the references to the events and people of the 30s. Now, in a finely staged production at Actors Co-op, The Man Who Came to Dinner, like the playwrights' other smash hit You Can't Take It With You, shows just how dull life would be without flagrant eccentricity and staunch individuality.
For those who have forgotten the basic plot, famous critic Sheridan Whiteside makes a stop in Ohio as part of his whirlwind lecture tour, only to slip and fall on the steps of the Stanley family residence. He is forced to spend several weeks of recuperation for a sprained ankle on the premises, reeking havoc and mischief within the lives of everyone with whom he comes in contact. It is a thrill at first for the family to be playing host to him, but once he announces that he is suing them and they are compelled to pay for his outrageous international phone calls... and put up with his atypical behavior like inviting dangerous convicts to a luncheon in their dining room or keeping live penguins sent to him as a gift, the pleasure wears thin. In spite of his egomaniacal actions, Whiteside does possess a magnanimous heart and manages to affect positive changes - at least he tries - in the dreams and desires of the Stanley children, who want to break away form their tyrannical father and lead more exciting lives. When he toys with his secretary Maggie's happiness (Natalie Hope MacMillan ), it does show selfishness but something that everyone is prone to when faced with losing someone they hold dear. These elements of Kaufman and Hart's writing, as in You Can't Take It With You, where the audience are encouraged to take a look at the other side of the coin, the crazier yet glamorous, appealing side of life and to honestly evaluate their own accomplishments, give the otherwise fluffy play some endearingly rich content.
Linda Kerns directs the entire proceedings with a terrifically fast pace that works throughout, only slowing down for a few touching monologues. Martin is a fine dramatic actor and possesses Whiteside's acerbic wit in spades, and succeeds in putting his own stylish stamp on the character. Befitting a fine actor, Martin is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast. MacMillan brings out the down.to.earth good nature and loyalty of Maggie, and it works well, as she is the complete opposite in nature to flamboyant actress, diva Lorraine Sheldon, played with phony charm by Catherine Urbanek. John Allee is a brilliantly adept physical comedic actor and a stitch as Banjo, and Wenzel Jones - nice to see him away from the audience with his pad and pen for a change - makes Beverly Carlton deliciously narcissistic. Kaufman and Hart, by the way, penned Banjo after Harpo Marx and Carlton after Noel Coward. Handsome Connor Sullivan plays straight arrow journalist Burt Jefferson with a nice mix of light comedy which shows up in his inebriated scene Christmas morning. Versatile Jean Kauffman is a hoot as Miss Preen, the nurse whipped into shape by Whiteside's rude behavior toward her, and Brenda Ballard is a delight as Harriet Stanley, the daffy sister whose behavior remains mysterious until the very end. Completing the large ensemble are Irwin Moskowitz as the very droll Dr. Bradley, and Karen Furno and Kevin Michael Moran as faithful servants Sarah and John, Lila Hood as June and Kyle Frattini as Richard, the unhappy Stanley children, and Deborah Marlowe and Lawrence Novikoff as the put upon Stanleys. It is nice to see principals covering many smaller roles, such as Jones as a prisoner and an officer of the law. Bravo to one and all!
The Man Who Came to Dinner provides great enjoyable madcap fun for middle-aged folk and oldsters who will take pleasure in the funny business of golden days gone by. Actors Co-op has again succeeded in carrying off a classic. What a treat for the holidays! Don't miss it!
(photo credit: John Dlugolecki)