Directed by Mary Redmon
At Circle Theatre, Oak Park, IL
When an insolent house guest stays longer than anyone could have anticipated.
Full disclosure: Kieran Welsh-Phillips – who plays Maggie Cutler – and I are distant relatives. That said, I’m pleased to report that, regardless of any filial connections, The Man Who Came to Dinner is quite the romp. Written very late in the 30s, and performed at Circle in period style, the play parodies many personalities of the time (such as Groucho Marx, Noel Coward, and Alexander Woollcott), with numerous in-jokes and pop culture references – a number of which, I must admit (being the uncultured rube that I am), went over my head; but did not harm my opinion of the play in the least. In fact, it was rather enjoyable hearing cracks about people that are no longer fodder for the comedians, but rather for the worms.
Kaufman and Hart authored the play as a vehicle for their friend, Alexander Woollcott, on whom they modeled the lead role, Sheridan Whiteside – revived excellent well in this production by Jon Steinhagen. Woollcott was famously insufferable, and the writers decided to explore the results should he become an unwilling house guest after slipping on the stairs. Needless to say, hijinx ensue: he terrorizes his hosts, the Stanleys, played by Noah Sullivan and Patti Paul, whom he finds unendurable; he browbeats the rurally inept Dr. Bradley (Peter Espsito); and is so hard on the homely Nurse Preen (Kate Kisner), she decides to vacate the profession. He is not, however, without charm, befriending the wait staff and encouraging the Stanley children to pursue their dreams, parents’ foibles be damned.
Problems, as they are won’t to do in drawing room comedies, arise when Whiteside’s secretary, Miss Cutler (played radiantly by the aforementioned Welsh-Phillips), goes and falls in love with the town journalist, one Bert Jefferson (Danny Pancratz), who has, as it turns out, written quite a play. Whiteside, beyond not wanting to lose his secretary, a woman who has been with him for ten years, doesn’t really believe that she’s fallen in love, and tries to split them up. He calls his dear friend Lorraine Sheldon, played by Heather Townsend in a show-stealing performance, and asks her to seduce the poor naïf so he might keep his precious secretary.
With various other out-of-town friends dropping by to see Mr. Whiteside, including Beverly Carlton (Noel Coward) and Banjo (Groucho) – both played wonderfully by Jerry Bloom – there is never a dull moment. The ensemble is strong and acts fly by. I was shocked that nearly three hours had gone by when we left the theatre. The Man Who Came to Dinner is an iconic period piece and the Circle Theatre Company have recreated those halcyon antebellum days to a most enjoyable effect.
Reviewed on: 2.23.11
For full show information, check out The Man Who Came to Dinner page at Theatre In Chicago.
At the Circle Theatre, 1010 Madison St, Oak Park, IL; call 708-660-9540; tickets $20; Friday & Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 3pm; running time 2:45 with two intermissions; through April 3.