THEATER REVIEW: Coronado Playhouse scores with “The Man Who Came To Dinner”

You may have had unwanted houseguests before, but thank your lucky stars you never hosted Sheridan Whiteside.

Coronado Playhouse offers a sparkling production of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s 1939 comedy classic “The Man Who Came To Dinner” through Aug. 5, wonderfully directed by Ruff Yeager.

Hart based this play on just such an experience. Hart’s guest – well-known 1920s and ’30s drama critic and radio personality Alexander Woollcott – was the model for Whiteside (Phil Johnson). (Woollcott is the caustic wit who said things like “reading Proust is like lying in someone else's dirty bath water.”)

The play posits a visit by famous radio personality Whiteside to the upper-middle class home of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley (Eric Poppick and Faeren Adams) in the small Ohio town of Mesalia. The star-struck Stanleys have invited him to dinner, and consider his acceptance quite a social coup – until a fall on the ice puts him in a wheelchair, immobilized for a few weeks.

The Stanleys are gracious hosts for a while, but find their dispositions souring when Whiteside, having commandeered the downstairs living room and library for his personal quarters, proceeds to parade a stream of unwelcome guests through the house such as convicts from a halfway house (Whiteside’s favorite charity) and Professor Metz (Frank Godinez), an entomologist who thoughtfully gifts Whiteside with a cockroach colony – 10,000 of the creepy crawlies in a sort of terrarium.

Things go downhill from there. Whiteside tries to hire the Stanleys’ help – cook Sarah (M Susan Peck) and John (Steven J Jensen). And tells the Stanley adult children Richard (Ryan Casselman) and June (Yvette Angulo) to ignore their parents and follow their hearts.

Whiteside’s poor birdlike nurse Miss Preen (Amy Dell) takes his abuse while longtime and long-suffering secretary Maggie Cutler (Kim Strassburger) falls in love with local journalist Bert Jefferson (Gregory Batty) and threatens to leave the old curmudgeon.

There are other outrageous characters, such as beautiful but bitchy young actress Lorraine Sheldon (Frances Anita Rivera), supposedly based on either Gertrude Lawrence or Tallulah Bankhead; Beverly Carlton (the uncredited Yeager, based on Noel Coward), and Banjo, a Hollywood comedian (based on Harpo Marx).

With a lineup like that and writing talent like Kaufman and Hart, the plot doesn’t really matter much, and it’s no wonder that this is madcap and hilarious sendup of the famous, the pretentious, actors and the young (among others) has been an audience favorite for decades.

Yeager and his forces do it justice. From Matt Scott’s colorful set and Jeanne Reith’s smashing period costumes to the large and capable cast headed by Johnson’s demanding, short-tempered (but very funny) Whiteside, “The Man Who Came To Dinner” provides a wonderfully wacky evening of theater.

The details

“The Man Who Came To Dinner” plays through Aug. 5 at Coronado Playhouse, 1835 Strand Way, Coronado.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call 619-435-4856 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.

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