BWW Reviews: THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER Is Rollicking Good Fun
George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart had an astonishing and nearly unparalleled knack for spotlighting and lampooning society's foibles and the affectations of its inhabitants. Among the products of their combined genius is one of the most endearing and enduring comedies, The Man Who Came to Dinner, now on stage at the Hale Centre Theatre and directed by Alaina Beauloye.
When Sheridan Whiteside, the paragon of radio days and the "friend of the great and near great" calamitously injures his hip in a fall at the home of the Stanley Family of Mesalia Ohio, the mild-mannered lives of the latter endure a comical tailspin of their own. Possessed by a sense of his own grandeur, he usurps home authority, relegating Mr. and Mrs. Stanley to the house's outskirts, encouraging their rebellious children to follow their dreams, frazzling the help with ornery barks of demands, demoralizing his doctor, and populating the place with an assortment of gifts from admirers that includes a case of penguins, an octopus, 10,000 cockroaches, and a mummy.
Every move Whiteside makes is a disruption to domestic tranquility, but his moves are hardly limited to home and hearth. Nay, they envelop matters of the heart as well, specifically that of his private secretary, Maggie Cutler, who has fallen ~ in her case, head over heels ~ for local reporter, scion of the newspaper, and aspiring playwright, Bert Jefferson. Thus, the plot thickens as Whiteside, intent on retaining her services, connives to neutralize the affair. He invites his actress friend, Lorraine Sheldon, to issue the siren call, on the one hand beguiling Bert and infuriating Maggie.
When his plan backfires, it's the fortuitous appearance of old friends and actors, Beverly Carlton and Banjo that provides the needed manic-power to reverse course and set things right.
As the yarn spins out and the ruses play out, an assortment of characters parade through the house and a mystery regarding the familiarity of Mr. Stanley's sister Harriet yearns to be solved.
The Man Who Came to Dinner is rollicking good fun with some of the funniest lines and gags to hit the stage, and, albeit 76 years old, the comedy still resonates. (Note to file: For the GenXers and Millennials, a guide to Whiteside's allusions to the rich and famous of the time might be quite handy. I spoke with a number for whom such luminaries as the Khedive of Egypt or even Gandhi were head-scratchers!)
Hale's production is blessed with a highly energized and talented cast of character actors, featuring most notably Hector Coris, whose turn as the madcap Banjo (fashioned after Harpo Marx) is tour de force hilarious. Mr. Coris commands the stage and is simply brilliant and a marvel to behold!
Bryan Stewart, who delivered a fine performance as the Phantom in Hale's production last September, likewise demonstrates his versatility and comic chops in an uproarious segment where he caricatures Ms. Sheldon's love interest, the stammering Lord Bottomley.
The bench is deep enough in this production to offset Mark Hackmann's performance as Whiteside. He appeared off his mark on opening night ~ in his pacing, the handling of his lines, and more critically, in his interpretation of Whiteside. Whiteside is a patronizing and tyrannical blowhard, self-possessed and arrogant, smarmy and sarcastic ~ and yet possessing an almost charming if not laughable irascibility. Whiteside's lines are acidic, but the recitation lacks the appropriate bite. It is this set of attributes that seemed underplayed if not neglected in what, hopefully, as the run continues, will evolve into a more nuanced and satisfying portrayal.
All things considered, Hale Centre Theatre does not cease to delight its audiences. The Man Who Came to Dinner continues its run at the through May 16th.
Photo credit to Hale Centre Theatre