Review of The Man Who Came to Dinner at the Kirkwood Theatre Guild

    George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart were two of the most successful playwrights of the mid-twentieth century American theatre. Together they wrote one of the theatre’s best comedies, The Man Who Came to Dinner. And the Kirkwood Theatre Guild is giving it a worthy production. 

    The man who came to dinner and stayed for six months is named Sheridan Whiteside in the play. Kaufman and Hart modeled this caricature—some who knew him would say very realistic portrait—on Alexander Woollcott, a New York drama critic and commentator for The New Yorker magazine, a member of the Algonquin Round Table, an occasional actor and playwright who had gained national fame as the star of a weekly CBS radio program. In the play, Whiteside is constantly in touch by telegram and telephone with every famous person in the world – and because I always enjoy seeing this play I fear that it will rarely be produced any longer when those names no longer mean anything to audiences. 

    Whiteside has been touring the country giving lectures. Following his lecture on a snowy evening in the town of Mesalia, Ohio, he was entertained at dinner in the home of a prominent family, the Stanleys. As he was leaving, he slipped on a patch of ice and severely injured his leg. The local doctor, played by Patrick Brueggen, diagnosed a broken leg and told Whiteside that he cannot move from the Stanley home until the leg heals. The Stanley home becomes the Whiteside home, and the Stanleys are restricted to the second floor and to a household routine determined by Whiteside.

    At Kirkwood, Ken Lopinot gives us the complete Whiteside, the waspish wit and the huge ego with its selfishness and occasional compassion. Lopinot does full justice to the brilliant lines the script gives him, a quality shared with his fellow cast members. 

    Such as Brittany Kohl Hester as Maggie Cutler, Whiteside’s secretary and general aide. Maggie falls in love with Brandon Atkins’ Bert Jefferson, the editor and publisher of the local newspaper, which adds further complications to the chaos around Whiteside and ingenious plot twists for Kaufman and Hart to invent. Will Shaw fumes as Mr. Ernest Stanley, driven by Whiteside to the limits of his patience and to a call to the police to eject him. As Mrs. Stanley, Gabi Maul is patience incarnate, ever the perfect hostess for the famous man. Jaelyn Hawkins and Tony Smith are the Stanley daughter and son, encouraged by a sympathetic Whiteside to ignore their father’s wishes and follow their dreams. Tom Day follows strict protocol as the Stanleys’ butler, and Ann Stuart as their cook is much fussed over by an appreciative Whiteside. As Whiteside’s much berated and imposed on nurse Mss Preen, Maria Wilkin also reaches the end of her patience. Julie Healey is all quirkiness as Stanley’s older sister with a past. Ann Hier Brown and Jan Wheatley as friends of Mrs. Stanley bring gifts to the great man and are insulted by him.

    As Christmas approaches, gifts, greetings, and visits from old friends flood Whiteside.

    Kevin Hester plays a professor who brings a display of cockroaches he’s experimenting with. Beverly Carlton, playwright, composer, performer, based on the similarly gifted Noel Coward, visits from London, and Kent Coffel at the piano does a credibly Coward-like performance of a Coward-like song. The movie-star comedian Banjo drops by, based on Woollcott’s friend Harpo Marx, and Ed Burguiere performs some Harpo bits, like draping his leg over somebody’s arm. When Maggie announces her plans to marry Bert and leave her job, Whiteside summons his glamorous actress friend Lorraine Sheldon, based on Gertrude Lawrence, to fly in and seduce Maggie’s intended. At Kirkwood, Maggie Lehman is indeed glamorous as Lorraine and fully theatrical. 

    Ann Hier Brown, Jan Wheatley, Ed Burguiere, Kent Coffel, Kevin Hester, and Robert Jones all enrich the stage doubling and tripling in a variety of roles.

    Danny Brown directed brilliantly. John “JT” Taylor brightly lighted this comedy and the efficient set designed by Stephanie Merritt  and Kent Coffel, decorated by Therese Melnykov, with costumes, makeup, and hair accurate for period and character by Abby Pastorello,  sound design by Jacob Winslow, and props by Jan Mantovani, Jadienne Davidson, and Jan Wheatley. 

    Thanks, Kirkwood, for The Man Who Came to Dinner.

    —Bob Wilcox

    Photo by Dan Donovan