Nowadays many playwrights like to pen scripts that I call ninety-minute-wonders, which I like. But sometimes it is refreshing to take in a classic that runs in the traditional three acts of yore, which is what The Group Rep has produced with Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s brilliant satyrical farce, The Man Who Came to Dinner. The show opened on Broadway in October of 1939 and ran for 739 performances. Inspired by their crusty friend, Alexander Woollcott, the famous theatre critic, commentator, and star of the radio program “The Town Crier,” the playwrights created a script that lampooned not only Woollcott, but caricatures of famous stars, most notably Gertrude Lawrence, Noel Coward and Harpo Marx.
Set in the upscale home of an Ohio factory owner, Mr. Ernest Stanley (Doug Haverty), the acerbic radio star and commentator, Sheridan Whiteside (the always excellent Jim Beaver) slipped on a piece of ice while entering the magnate’s home for a dinner party, injuring his hip. The local doctor (Fox Carney) has confined him to a wheel chair. Already having spent a couple of weeks in the chair, Whiteside is snippy and demanding toward his nurse, the abused Miss Preen (Kay Cole), to his long time assistant, Maggie (Hartley Powers), and anyone else who comes near.
The tightly written show has subplots of conniving and romantic frustration too numerous to catalog here, that are punctuated with audacious, character driven action. When Maggie falls for the local newspaper owner, Bert Jefferson (Mark Stancato), Whiteside, fearful of losing his longtime employee, tries to thwart the romance by importing a famous actress, Lorraine Sheldon (Susan Priver), to seduce the newspaper man. He enlists another actor, Beverly Carlton (excellent Chris Winfield) in from the continent to help queer the budding romance.
The third act ushers in a character named Banjo (the insanely funny, totally uninhibited, outrageously inventive Barry Pearl), clearly based on the antics of Harpo Marx. I have never seen anything like this performance and it is worth the price of admission all by itself.
With a cast of well over twenty performers, director Bruce Kimmel keeps the action brisk, and the pace energetic. The show is monumental and here is the list of the rest of the players in alphabetical order supplied by the excellent publicist, Nora Feldman: Neil Angevine, Bita Arefnia, Nick Asaro, Michele Bernath, Anastasia Burnett, Cheryl Crosland, Lareen Faye, Michael Gabiano, Chihiro Kato, Momoka Kato, Christian Land, John Ledley, Sherry Michaels, Steve Shaw, Marina Shtelen, Sal Valletta, Laura Wolfe and Leslie Young.
The design and production team includes Chris Winfield (Set Design), Douglas Gabrielle (Lighting Design), Michael Mullen (Costume Design), Steve Shaw (Sound Design), Doug Engalla (Promotional Video & Photography), Leslie Young (Properties), Brianna Saranchock (Assistant Director) and Art & Soul Design (Graphic Design).
The Man Who Came to Dinner is a don’t miss hit in my book, so don’t miss it! It runs through January 12 at Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard in North Hollywood.