The Man Who Came to Dinner
Reviewed by Lovell Estell III
Through December 17
Director Linda Kerns and a spirited cast do an excellent job with this old “chestnut” by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. It’s rarely produced and tricky to stage successfully because of its dizzying carousel of characters and dated strain of humor. This production is a welcome addition to the usual L.A. theater offerings that make the rounds during the holiday season.
It takes place at Christmas time in Mesalia, Ohio in 1936, at the upscale Stanley home, where an unfortunate slip and fall accident on the premises has left the eminent critic and man of letters, Sheridan Whiteside (Greg Martin), stranded under the family’s care. At first, they are thrilled at having such a famous personage convalescing under their roof, but the joy quickly turns to dread.
Instead of being a grateful guest, Whiteside, soon becomes “Lord of The Manor.” From his throne/ wheelchair, he announces early on his intentions to sue the Stanleys for the tidy sum of 150,000 dollars. He takes over the downstairs portion of the house and makes outrageous demands of his hosts, while bossing around his devoted secretary, Maggie Cutler (Natalie Hope MacMillan), his nurse, Miss Preen (Jean Kauffman) and the cook (Kevin Michael Moran). In sum, he freely and frequently insults all who displease him in the slightest — which is just about everybody.
And if that’s not enough, the ungrateful houseguest brings in his wake a collection of delightfully eccentric friends, a shipment of penguins, cockroaches and hardened convicts. He hatches a scheme to squash a blossoming romance between his secretary and reporter Bert Jefferson (Connor Sullivan), and incites rebellion against paternal tyranny by the Stanley’s two children Richard (Kyle Frattini) and June (Lila Hood).
Director Kerns gets the job done right here: from the old-style red velvet curtains, to the mixed British-American accents that were all the rage in 1930’s Hollywood, to the authentic radio broadcasts before the show, to her skilled marshalling of the large cast. Shon LeBlanc’s costumes are dazzling. Nicholas Acciani’s scenic and projection design and Andrew Schmedake’s lighting are impressive, and the ensemble performances are truly memorable.
Actors C0-op David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through December 17. (323) 462-8460 or www.ActorsCo-op.org Running time: two hours and 45 minutes with two intermissions.