A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
You know you’re in for a humdinger of a show when it needs a glossary of terms. In the case of The Man Who Came to Dinner, Spotlighters helpfully provides a goldenrod sheet of Depression-era references along with the program and trust, you’ll need it (though, judging from the look of the matinee crowd, 1939 wasn’t too long ago for some of these folks). This is necessary because Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman were clearly obnoxious culturevultures who really REALLY wanted you to know how many famous people they knew and could casually reference. They drop names like Dre drops a beat (see, I can play this Pop-Up Video game too, HOOMONS). Their fall semester standby, The Man Who Came to Dinner, was intended as a huuuuge vehicle for the famous critic Alexander Woolcott, both figuratively and literally, since it involved hauling his ass around in a wheelchair the entire time. It’s an affable piece of the type that makes people coo over the pretty clothes, get all nostalgic and forget that, like, rampant, damaging sexism was a thing (see also: watching Mad Men). Sheridan Woolcott, er, Whiteside (Mike Galizia) the famous radio personality, has slipped on some ice and fallen on the doorstep of the Stanley family, Mother Daisy (Julie Press), Father Ernest (Jim Hart), Son Richard (Dennis Binseel) and Daughter June (Claire Iverson). Whiteside is a right bastard during his month-long recovery, snarling and snapping at everyone in his path. He commandeers the entire household and orders his assistant, Maggie Cutler (Garima Bhatt) around like she’s some sort of spaniel. Whiteside brings with him a circus of wacky drop-ins including beautiful, fainting violet of the stage, Lorraine Sheldon (Caroline C. Kiebach), who has a squeal that could shatter glass, long-suffering Nurse Preen (Penny Nichols), fast-talking entertainer Beverly Carlton (Greg Grenier), practical joker Banjo (Jason Vaughan) and other assorted doctors, radio techs, deliverymen, prisoners, policemen and more. When a painfully earnest newspaperman, Bert Jefferson (Eric Poch), comes around and starts making eyes at Maggie, Whiteside earns his championship meddler badge by scheming to break-up the budding romance so that the big shit doesn’t lose his damned secretary. Don’t worry, it all comes right in the end thanks to a particularly Looney Toonish Deus ex machina. Director Fuzz Roark is no stranger to staging in this space, he’s been the Managing Artistic Director at Spotlighters for the past fifteen years. So he keeps everyone moving in and out and in and out at a dizzying pace, which is necessary because the play clocks in at a rotund 2:45. Transitions squeak, sometimes loudly, and there is a door on the set that I’m pretty sure more than one of the actors would gladly see die in a fire, but as a whole, I felt it worked beautifully. Now, in terms of the acting: if some of the roles seem a little thin, a bit “paper doll” well, that’s because they are. It’s curious how a play with a bajillion characters can feel like a one man show, but it does. Dinner is an old-fashioned stahhh piece and Mike Galizia essentially rips it a new one. He shows impressive and fantastic glower power in his role as misanthropic Sheridan Whiteside. He’s fab and if no one is really his equal, well, the show is engineered that way (I have a feeling ol’ man Woolcott would have drunk the blood of anyone who dared steal a scene from him). Bhatt and a cutely spitcurled Poch play the hapless ingenues Maggie and Bert to a T (Jesus, is Eric Poch tall). I truly felt for Penny Nichols’ poor Nurse Preen and by the time she gets around to giving Mt. Whiteside a well-deserved verbal whoopin’ I cheered. And freaking Caroline C. Kiebach fucking OWNED the second half of the show, y’all. Her Lorraine Sheldon, vanity incarnate, is berserkly funny and has added “French bitch!” to my repertoire of how to scold my maids. She’s a Shirley Temple with acid in it, all baby-voice and viscous claws. Look out for the way she “cries” and tell me if you don’t wet yourself. There were some line issues here and there, but nothing major, just enough to take me out of it once and awhile. Laura Nicholson did a great job on the costumes, they’re white-buttoned, kick-pleated perf. Set (Alan Zemla) is cozy and warm, lit with pretty yellow lights (Allison Ramer). It looked like a postcard stuck to my grandma’s refrigerator. Also, that is it – Fuzz Roark, you come here right now and install floors in my house. That shit looked GREAT.
BOTTOM LINE: There are some bumps in the road on the way to this Dinner but I have a feeling that they’ll smooth themselves out as it all runs merrily along. A pretty magnificent performance combined with a clippity-do-dah pace and homey set pulls this one out of school play territory. It’s an old chestnut, sure, but at least it’s a hot one. I wanted star turns and I got them. Thank goodness.
Running at Spotlighters until December 21st.
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