Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Hilarity reigns in 'The Man Who Came to Dinner'

Mr. and Mrs. Stanley (Todd L. Summers and Jennifer Ellington) complain to their rude, wheelchair-using guest, Sheridan Whiteside. (Photo by Joyce Goldschmid)

Sheridan Whiteside is “The Man Who Came to Dinner” and stayed and stayed, causing major disruptions and leading to laughs galore.

Palo Alto Players is staging a humorous production of this nutty 1939 comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

It’s set in the small town of Mesalia, Ohio, shortly before Christmas in the late ’30s. Sheridan (James Shelby) was to attend a dinner party at the home of Mr. and Mrs. 
Ernest Stanley (Todd L. Summers and Jennifer Ellington). Just as he was going in, however, he slipped on some ice and broke his hip.

Consequently, he’s confined to a wheelchair in the Stanley home, which he has taken over. He constantly insults his hosts as well as his doctor (Tim Farrell) and nurse (Roneet Aliza Rahamim).

Only some household help, his stream of guests and his longtime secretary, Maggie Cutler (Kristen Lo), escape his vicious tongue.

When Maggie falls in love with a local newspaper reporter, Bert Jefferson (Paul Dunlap), and seems likely to leave her boss, he tries to thwart the romance. He summons his friend and notorious vamp, Lorraine Sheldon (Athena Rink), to town to woo Bert away from Maggie.

Whiteside is reportedly based on Alexander Woollcott, a famous theater critic who had his own radio show. In the play, Whiteside is on a first-name basis with Hollywood and Broadway stars as well as world leaders.

Directed by PAP artistic director Patrick Klein, the large cast includes several actors connected to Palo Alto schools, mainly Gunn High, where Shelby is the theater director and teacher.

The acting is uneven, but several performances stand out, including Shelby’s as Whiteside and Lo’s as Maggie. 
Also noteworthy are Brian Flegel as actor Beverly Carolton and Chris Mahle as Banjo, another actor friend. Banjo, who seems based on a Marx brother, has a hilarious scene in which he pretends to fight off an attack by Lorraine’s fur stole.

Complementing the production are the set by Nikolaj Sorensen, lighting by Isaiah Leeper, costumes by Mary Cravens and sound by Danielle Kisner.

Running about two hours and 45 minutes with two intermissions, “The Man Who Came to Dinner’’ will continue through July 1 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org.