The Bolles School of Jacksonville presented a three performance run of “The Man Who Came To Dinner” on November 15, 16, 17 at the McGehee Auditorium , a comfortable space with excellent acoustics on the school’s campus.
The Dual Critics had several reasons for wanting to review this play at Bolles. First, the play was written by two of America’s greatest playwrights. Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman wrote the comedic masterpiece “You Can’t Take It With You,” which was awarded the1937 Pulitzer Prize for drama. “The Man Who Came to Dinner” was written in 1939 and has numerous references to many famous people who were living at that time. We last saw a production in Dayton in 1999 by the Seaside Music Theatre’s summer program, found it well-written and very entertaining, and wondered how today’s audiences would react to this decidedly retro comedy.
Our second reason for wanting to review it was to experience theatre at Bolles. We would like to go to all the high schools in North Florida eventually, and have in the past reviewed at Douglas Anderson, Stanton, Nease, and Episcopal. We had met Laura Anne Rippel, the school’s Drama Director, earlier this year when she directed “Is He Dead?” at Theatre Jacksonville, and she encouraged us to attend a Bolles performance
A brief look at the plot goes something like this. Sheridan Whiteside, an acid-tongued radio celebrity, has accepted an invitation to dinner with a wealthy factory owner and his family. Unfortunately, he slips and injures his leg on the icy steps outside, and is forced to stay with the Stanleys while he recovers. He takes over the family’s life from his wheelchair and attracts a constant flow of eccentric guests. He also has strange deliveries, things such as a cockroach farm, penguins, and an Egyptian mummy case. The show ends in a whirlwind of pandemonium. We won’t go further into the plot since you won’t have the opportunity to see it; it was made into a movie in 1941 and you may be able to find a copy at the public library.
The cast was excellent in this production of an American classic.
Playing the increasingly uncomfortable and upset homeowners were Alex Hilf and Caila Carter as Mr. and Mrs. Stanley. Their son Richard (Frank McKeon) and daughter June ( Lauren Gibson) have career and relationship issues of their own, and find that Whiteside provides surprisingly helpful guidance. Hunter Hakimian makes a brief cameo appearance as Sandy, June’s boy friend. Matt McPhillips and Madison Meyer were John and Sarah, the household’s efficient servants.
Lilly Bateh and Sara Meadow were visitors Mrs. Dexter and Mrs. McCutcheon, both enamored with the brutish Mr. Whiteside. Maggie Cutler, Whiteside’s long time secretary, was well portrayed by Emily Johns. Dr. Bradley (Jake Bistrong) and Miss Preen, the nurse (Hannah Kobrin), were hilarious as they treated the incapacitated guest. Lily Donovan as Harriet, Mr. Stanley’s sister, was a spaced-out lady who made grand entrances in filmy dresses down the main stairway. Adam Kessler was the local newspaper reporter Bert Jefferson, who has written a play he wants Whiteside to promote; he also becomes Maggie’s suitor.
Julian Vega made a brief but hilarious entrance as Professor Mezt, who delivers the creepy roach farm. May Lee played one of the most interesting featured roles as Lorraine Sheldon, an actress who is very funny as an opportunist and a woman of loose morals.
Cecil Jennings as Beverly Carlton played a role that was based on British actor/playwright Noel Coward, and was very convincing with his accent and demeanor in this role.
Giving a very good impression of Harpo Marx (except he did speak) was Blake Steinberg as Banjo. Rounding out the cast were Travis Johns in three roles as Westcott/Convict # 1 and Deputy # 1, and Sasha Vershynin as Express Man and Convict # 3.
In the demanding and complex role of Sheridan Whiteside was Max Ackerman, sporting a black beard and moustache. Mr. Ackerman was very animated, used wonderful facial gestures, and was in character and line perfect during the two hours he was on stage.
Whiteside was a name dropper, and an insert in the program had a very brief biography of the fifty or so rich and famous people he mentions in the course of the play (like Irving Berlin, H. G. Wells, Howard Hughes … well you get the idea). The inset was very helpful, as most audience members weren’t old enough to remember these celebrities.
The set by Art Director Herman McEachin was excellent and very professional, an interior with deep rose walls, a wide staircase, and furnishings that included a vintage radio and tiffany lamp. Ms. Rippel ‘s direction kept this a fast-paced show. The first act was an hour long but did not seem that long as it just zipped by since the dialogue was so interesting and well delivered.
“The Man Who Came to Dinner” remains a very funny show and a classic farce. It was an excellent performance choice as it had a number of different roles that gave the actors opportunities to develop interesting characterizations.
Thanks Bolles, and we will be back for your future shows, beginning with the spring musical.