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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER
at Theatre at St. Clement's

HOME INVASION
By MATT WINDMAN

  Joseph R. Sicari, Cady Huffman and Jim Brochu/ Ph: Carol Rosegg

Even more than 70 years since it was written, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s The Man Who Came to Dinner remains the most masterful, well-constructed, crowd-pleasing and gleefully chaotic ensemble comedy in the American canon.

Critic, radio personality and lecturer Sheridan Whiteside (an unapologetic stand-in for Alexander Woolcott) breaks his hip outside the Stanley residence in Ohio, forcing him to recuperate and driving the provincial Stanley family nuts.

Although Whiteside would like to leave as soon as possible, he is alarmed when his longtime secretary Maggie announces her intent to resign after falling smitten for Bert Jefferson, a local newspaperman and aspiring playwright. A desperate, scheming Whiteside has sexpot stage actress Lorraine Sheldon (Gertrude Lawrence) to steal Bert away from Maggie. If there is a love story to The Man Who Came to Dinner, it is not Maggie and Bert but that of Whiteside and Maggie. All the while, countless other outrageous personalities invade the home including Beverly Carlson (Noel Coward) and Banjo (Harpo Marx).  

But due to its demanding requirements (a cast of two-dozen actors, a lavish living-room space, an audience willing to withstand three acts), the play is rarely revived anymore, although the Roundabout Theatre Company did an excellent production in 2000 directed by Jerry Zaks and starring Nathan Lane.

Off-Broadway’s Peccadillo Theater Company, which is dedicated to presenting rarely seen American classics, such as Elmer Rice’s Counsellor-at-Law or Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude, definitely deserves credit for its willingness to produce the play. It was also a fine idea to star Jim Brochu, who won acclaim for his pitch-perfect portrayal of Zero Mostel in the unexpectedly captivating one-man show Zero Hour as Sheridan Whiteside.

But Dan Wackerman’s production, which features a large, detailed set that takes up the entire space at the Theater at St. Luke’s, ultimately fails to catch fire or land the laughs that the piece has to offer. While audience members previously unfamiliar with the play are sure to have a great time (how could they not?), anyone who has seen the play before is likely to be disappointed. It is sort of like stopping by a beautiful city with a tour guide who lacks the knowhow to show you why it’s so special.

Even Brochu gives a lackluster and unrefined performance as Whiteside, essentially a tamed-down version of his Zero Mostel. Oh sure, he makes many mischievous grimaces, but he never seems to portrayal the citadel of 1930s American culture and unending self-love that is Sheridan Whiteside. He also fails to connect with Amy Landon, who plays Maggie.

Cady Huffman, who won a Tony Award for her alluring performance as Ulla in The Producers, gives a mostly empty and mainly irritating performance as Lorraine. If there is a standout to this production, it is Kristin Griffith as Harriet Stanley, the family nut-job, bringing spastic movements and bulging eyes to the role. 

 


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