Play from 1930s still offers charming fun

'Man Who Came to Dinner' is classic American favorite

Posted 2/28/16

Funnyman/director Bob Wells gives us some background in his director's notes: “Playwrights George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart wrote “The Man Who Came to Dinner” as a vehicle for their friend Alexander Wolcott, a well-known critic and radio gossip …

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Play from 1930s still offers charming fun

'Man Who Came to Dinner' is classic American favorite

Posted

Funnyman/director Bob Wells gives us some background in his director's notes: “Playwrights George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart wrote “The Man Who Came to Dinner” as a vehicle for their friend Alexander Wolcott, a well-known critic and radio gossip show host. They had been casting about for a plot when Wolcott showed up unannounced at Hart's country estate and proceeded to take over the house. He slept in the master bedroom, terrorized the house staff and proved himself to be a perfectly obnoxious human being. As he left, he wrote in Hart's guest book, `This is to certify that I had one of the most unpleasant times I ever spent.' The idea for a play was born.”

The comedy opened on Broadway in 1939, ran until 1941 and has been a favorite ever since, with Sheridan Whiteside (Eric Fry) thundering rude remarks across the nation to assorted Nurse Preens and anyone else within shouting distance in numerous theaters, small and large. In the style of 1939 theater, it runs three hours with two intermissions at Littleton's Town Hall Arts Center — and keeps an audience engaged and chuckling throughout.

Set in 1939, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Stanley, prominent residents of a small town in Ohio, it soon becomes obvious that all is not well under the Stanleys' roof. Famous New York critic and radio personality Sheridan Whiteside was in town for a lecture and was invited to the Stanleys' home for dinner. Alas, he fell on a patch of ice at the entrance and was injured — which required him to stay there during his recovery period, cared for by bumbling Dr. Bradley (Tim O'Connell), who happens to be writing his autobiography — and skittish Nurse Preen (skilled comic LuAnn Buckstein).

Phones ring, stage personalities come and go, including Town Hall's excellent Seth Maisel as a Groucho Marx image, Banjo. Gifts arrive, including penguins from Admiral Byrd. Whiteside's trusted secretary Maggie Cutler (Taylor Nicole Young) falls in love with the young local newspaper editor, Bert Jefferson (Ryan Buehler) and Whiteside, not wanting to lose her services, calls in a Hollywood siren, Lorraine Sheldon (the excellent Martha Harmon Pardee) to lure Bert away.

There are just lots of moving parts to this well-loved play, and Bob Wells manages to juggle them all into a crazy story that works itself out — sort of — in the end. Theater lovers of a certain age will remember the characters mentioned and/or appearing, while younger audience members may have fun looking some of them up, with a bit about the 1930s entertainment scene. But it's not necessary in order to enjoy this well-paced comedy, directed by a skillful veteran.

If you go

“The Man Who Came to Dinner” plays through March 20 at Town Hall Arts Center, 2450 W. Main St. in downtown Littleton. Performances: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 2 p.m. on March 5 and 6:30 p.m. on March 13. Tickets: $23-$42, 303-794-2787, ext. 5, townhallartscenter.org.

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