Playwrights Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman knew what they were doing when they penned THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, a holiday farce which has delighted audiences for over 80 years. First produced on Broadway in 1939, the play has been adapted to radio, television, and film. Hart and Kaufman modeled their main character after a good friend, theater critical and national radio star Alexander Woolcott, and cited numerous personages who were well-known in their time, including Noel Coward, Harpo Marx, and Lizzie Border (some with the requisite name changes).
Famed radio commentator Sheridan Whiteside (Jim Beaver) planned to spend moments in Mesalia, Ohio, a small town with little to attract his interest, on his way to Hollywood for the holidays. A small slip on the ice outside of the Stanley family home – and Whiteside is relegated to a wheelchair and restful rehab for the next few weeks at the home of his reluctant hosts, the Stanleys (Doug Haverty and Laura Wolfe), their kids (Anastasia Burnett/Marina Shtelen and Neil Angevine), and weird auntie Harriet (Michele Bernath). The egotistical Whiteside soon takes over the place – lock, stock, and barrel – while he chats up his huge circle of celebrities of the day and steals the Stanley’s house staff.
But trouble may be brewing as Whiteside’s long-time secretary Maggie Cutler (Harley Powers) takes a shine to local newspaper owner and aspiring playwright Bert Jefferson (Mark Stancato). In the typical Whiteside manner, Sheridan quickly hatches nefarious plans in the form of loose-living and sexy actress Lorraine Sheldon (Susan Priver). Even the arrival of author Beverly Carlton (Chris Winfield) and comic actor Banjo (Barry Pearl/Michael Gabiano) cannot deter Whiteside from plotting.
The Lonny Chapman Theatre has outdone itself in the production of this hilarious comedy. The huge cast is picture perfect, starting with the star all the way down to the smallest part in the show. Special kudos to Jim Beaver (Whiteside) and Barry Pearl (Banjo), who couldn’t be better as the ascerbic commentator and the crazed madman clown. Director Bruce Kimmel has managed to keep the action moving at a frantic pace, just right for this farcical Christmas blunder. He has also managed to herd the cast of actor/cats with equal skill.
Chris Winfield’s set design is classic, with Michael Mullen’s costumes keeping the era alive. Douglas Gabrielle’s lighting and Steve Shaw’s lighting fit right in. If you’re wondering if some of the lines and characters are dated (given the age of the play), wonder no more. For THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER transcends time to come across as fresh and new at every turn. Even if a few of the “famous” in the play don’t ring any bells for you – you’ll quickly catch on to the humor. Good writing is timeless – and THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER proves the point.
THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER runs through January 12, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Lonny Chapman Theatre is located at 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets are $25 (seniors/students $20; 10+ groups $15). For information and reservations, call 818-763-5990 or go online.