‘Man Who Came to Dinner’ is delicious fun
By Carol Davis
CORONADO, California—If you are in the mood for some good old-fashioned fun, the Coronado Playhouse is mounting the riotous George Kaufman/Moss Hart comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner. It’s one of those classic oldies (1939) but goodies that, for some reason don’t get produced very often.
Thanks to director Ruff Yeager (he also designed the lighting) not a beat is lost on his attention to details in this period classic. In addition, the unbelievably wonderful and luscious costumes by Jeanne Reith are simply mouthwatering. Matt Scott designed the Stanley cottage that has all the trappings of upper class tenants.
The show boasts a large cast (25 or so). It is somewhat dated but deliciously so. It’s long by today’s standards (it has two intermissions and three acts) and the setup it is just plain goofy; and let’s call a spade a spade, it was the perfect vehicle for the Kaufman and Hart to give a nod to their inspiration Alexander Woollcott who embodies the character Sheridan Whiteside (Phil Johnson) as the blustery eye of this play’s hurricane.
It seems Woollcott showed up at the Hart estate uninvited with his Girl Friday Maggie (Kim Strassburger). He took over the house and proceeded to terrorize his entire staff while there. The story goes that when he left, he wrote in Hart’s guest book that it was one of the most unpleasant times he had ever spent. And so the play picks it up from there and takes it a step farther.
Sheridan Whiteside, critic, radio gossip columnist, lecturer and friend and promoter to the stars slipped on a piece of ice when he showed up for dinner at the home of factory owner Earnest Stanley (Eric Poppick) and his wife Daisy (Faeren Adams) in Masalia, Ohio. It is a few days before Christmas.
When we meet up with him he is in a wheelchair due to a hip fracture from the fall, ranting and raving about his need for privacy. Because the Stanley household is a busy one with two grown children, Richard (Ryan Casselman) and June (Yvette Angulo) and a household staff, it seems like open house twenty-four hours. Whiteside’s friends seem to drop in and out on a moment’s notice and it is like a three-ring circus there.
Not to break his stride, though, Whiteside manages to throw the entire household into a tizzy as he begins to conduct his business there as if the Stanley household was his own personal property and anyone but his friends were considered the enemy. His razor-sharp tongue manages to insult friend and foe alike (Whiteside to the nurse, Miss Preen (Amy Dell) taking care of him, “You look like a sex starved cobra”) as the stream of insults rage throughout his stay.
He is particularly partial to his inner circle. They include dear friend Beverly Carlton, who was molded after Noel Coward, a character called Banjo (Bryan Finnigan who was likened to Harpo Marx), Lorraine Sheldon, a Gertrude Lawrence stand in (Frances Anita Rivera), and a professor Metz (Frank Godinez) who sent a cockroach village to the Stanley home for Whiteside’s entertainment so he could listen to the sex patterns of those dirty bugs, and that’s just for starters. He also is gifted some rare penguins and octopus and an Egyptian sarcophagus which does come in handy at the end of the show, crazy as it sounds.
His name-dropping when talking to friends on the phone is extensive and impressive. His throw-away list includes Ethel Barrymore, Emily Post, Carole Lombard, Margaret Mitchell, Walt Disney, H.G. Wells, Shirley Temple, Oscar Wilde, Horace Greeley and ZaSu Pitts to name a few.
The show is non-stop one-liners that allows everyone in the huge cast a moment or two of fame in the spotlight but the story, not withstanding, is just a lightweight vehicle that’s pure unadulterated fun and is a great opportunity for funny man Phil Johnson to step into some pretty famous shoes the likes of Monty Woolley, the quintessential Sheridan Whiteside.
Woolley’s name became a household word shortly after the play debuted on Broadway in 1939. Johnson, who doesn’t have the bluster of a Woolley or that signature white beard, is just as fast and furiously funny in a diabolical way, through in his delivery and body language.
Kim Strassburger, a fine and serious actor in her own right, manages to throw Whiteside off his stride when she announces that she is leaving his service to marry the hometown newspaper reporter Bert Jefferson (Gregory Batty). Whiteside, who thinks she is making a mistake, has another plan up his sleeve. Like a vengeful teenager, he devises a nasty plan to undermine his faithful secretary. Not to worry though this is play with a, ahem, happy ending.
Elaine Litton is a hoot as the off-the-wall and mysterious Harriet Stanley, Mr. Stanley’s sister. She has a secret you will have to find out about for yourselves. Faeren Adams’ Mrs. Stanley can’t stop herself from being a bumbler around Whiteside and Eric Poppick can’t get away from the feeling of defeat every time he tries to rebuff the tiresome conditions he and his wife are forced to put up with while his children seem to have the right formula to get along with the pushy columnist.
Overall the ensemble is just fine and the show filled with enough gags, twists and turns to leave a smile on your face. Even though we will never see the likes of a Sheridan Whiteside again, if you were ever a young star gazer consider The Man Who Came to Dinner a small taste into the beginnings of Hollywood’s rich-and-famous and early-celebrity watching and enjoy!
See you at the theatre.
Dates: through Aug. 5th
Organization: Coronado Playhouse
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 1835 Strand Way, Coronado, CA
Ticket Prices: start at $20.00
Davis is a San Diego based theatre critic. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Short URL: http://www.sdjewishworld.com/?p=29597