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A CurtainUp Review
The Man Who Came to Dinner
It’s 1939 and our Mr. Whiteside is a pop culture phenomenon. He knows everyone who’s anyone, and receives Christmas presents from Shirley Temple and Somerset Maugham, and even a carton of live penguins from Admiral Richard Byrd. Whiteside (played lustily by Jim Brochu) is a red-faced Falstaffian archetype.
The setting is the home of the unfortunate Stanleys of Masalia, Ohio on whose icy porch Mr. Whiteside, a famous theater critic in an era when critics apparently possessed outlandish authority, has fallen. He threatens to sue his dinner hosts if they don’t permit him to convalesce in their home. Prisoners in their own house, the Stanleys are forced to endure Whiteside’s incessant demands and eccentric extravagances. The fun comes from watching Whiteside constantly up the ante on the frustrated Stanleys.
Theater goers of all stripes will enjoy Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s The Man Who Came to Dinner, but older theatergoers, particularly those familiar with the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s, may love it. Some of the humor is a bit dated, but other bits are surprisingly ribald and hold up quite well. Director Dan Wackerman keeps the pace quick and deftly manages the 30+ characters who breeze through the set during the course of the evening.
The Man Who Came to Dinner is a lighthearted romp for the holiday season, a great night out. The predictable standouts in the cast are the show's stars: the strong and versatile Mr. Brochu, who is the glue of the entire production, and Cady Huffman as the vivacious and seductive queen of the New York theater, Lorraine Shedon. Also notable is John Windsor-Cunningham’s performance as the larger than life Beverly Carlton, another bright light of show biz (purportedly modeled after Noel Coward) that Whiteside nonchalantly invites to invade the home of his guests.
Harry Feiner’s staging is impeccable. Fresh off his brilliant staging of Richard II at the Pearl Theater, in which he essentially fashioned an ominous 13th century castle from window screens and muslin, Mr. Feiner now tackles an upper middle class Midwestern home circa 1939, replete with tiled floors and black and white wall photographs. The results are at once dazzling and charming. Amy Pedigo-Otto’s costuming is smart and preppy, underscoring the middle American wholesomeness of the Stanleys, whose lives have been upended by a brute from New York City and who we gradually learn are not without charm and even a heart.
Hart and Kaufman’s iconic work ultimately becomes enmeshed in too many farcical plot twists, particularly with the introduction of Whiteside’s old pal, Banjo (read Harpo Marx), played a bit too preciously by Joseph R. Sicari. Overall though, it’s still a strong and entertaining play, and Mr. Wackerman and company take what the playwrights have given them and faithfully execute it in a way that will still appeal to contemporary audiences.
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