Haddonfield Plays and Players continues its 2019 season with The Man Who Came To Dinner, opening May 9th. A noted radio personality and egotistical tyrant slips and falls on the steps of the Stanley family residence. He is forced to spend several weeks of recuperation, wreaking havoc and mischief on the lives of everyone he meets, including penguins in the library, in this madcap comedy.
“It's a fun show, a period piece, and that we're looking forward to sharing this production with audiences soon,” said the show’s director, Shannon Gingell. We spoke to Gingell about the production:
What is the show about?
The Man Who Came to Dinner is a witty, madcap three-act comedy by acclaimed playwright duo, George Kaufman and Moss Hart. Inspired by a real-life “ungrateful house guest” experience that Hart once had with journalist, critic, and radio personality Alexander Woollcott, this show satirizes both Hollywood and Middle America of the 1930s and ‘40s. In the show, ill-tempered celebrity radio personality and writer Sheridan Whiteside finds himself the unexpected house guest of Mr. and Mrs. Earnest W. Stanley, as he recuperates in their Ohio home following a fall and a broken hip. During the course of the play, Whiteside has a host of quirky visitors and gets himself (and everyone around him) wrapped up in a variety of comedic situations, involving cockroaches, penguins, impersonations, plenty of secrets, and an Egyptian mummy case. Meanwhile, when Whiteside's secretary Maggie falls in love with a local newspaper reporter, Whiteside is thrown into a panic at the idea of Maggie leaving her job with him so that she can stay in Mesalia and marry her new love. How will everything turn out for this zany cast of characters? Will Maggie marry her small-town beau? Will Whiteside ever make it out of the Stanley's living room? Audiences will have to come see the play to find out!
How does this production differ from other versions of the story?
This production of The Man Who Came to Dinner was approached fairly traditionally, so people who are familiar with the script or other productions of it will have a pretty good idea of what to expect with this comedic living room play. We did cut out a few lines that didn't make sense based on our staging, and we chose to update some of the language here and there, so that the humor would land more effectively with a modern audience who may not be as familiar with some of the play's dated cultural references. For instance, modern audiences may not recognize the name "Philo Vance," but they likely know who Sherlock Holmes is. Making language updates such as this, where possible, help us get the play's point across more clearly to a modern audience.
We've approached this show as a classic "living room comedy." It's simply staged, in a unit set with few set changes or major production elements that happen throughout the piece, in order to put the focus squarely on the larger-than-life characters and the hilarious situations they get themselves into, rather than the focus being on things like technical spectacle, like it might be in other types of productions.
What most drew you to direct this show?
The Man Who Came to Dinner is one of my favorite comedic plays, so I was excited to have this chance to direct it. I really enjoy its quick-witted sense of humor and its examination of that late 30's/early 40's "Golden Age of Hollywood" era in America. At times, its plot feels almost sitcom-like, which makes it fun to work on. Also, I was in the play my senior year of high school (I played the role of Maggie Cutler), so the show has a special place in my heart, and I knew it inside and out before even starting the process here at HP&P. It's been great having the chance to revisit the show, this time from the director's perspective instead of from the actor's perspective.
What are your favorite moments or standout moments from the show?
For me, the highlight of this show are all the little break-out moments where we get to see each kooky character have their moment to shine. I don't want to give away too many of the details about those moments, and ruin the funny surprises! Without getting into specifics, we get to see something different from each character—some physical comedy, funny accents and impersonations, a dramatic shift in character from meek to angry, etc. As far as specific standout moments and scenes, the sequence with the mummy case towards the end of the show is one that I think the audience will especially love. I also thing the chaotic sequences at the top of the show, and at the end of Act 2 and Act 3, where many of the characters are all on stage together and a lot of things are happening at once, are fun to watch.
What is one thing the audience should know or feel about The Man Who Came to Dinner at HP&P?
Audiences should come to the show ready to laugh! It's a fast paced show, with lots of wit and word play and zany comedic situations. The other thing that would be important for them to know is that this is a 1930s/40s period piece. They may not know all the show's cultural references off hand, so if they want to get to know the world of the show a bit more, so that they can more fully appreciate all of its humor, they can check out this play guide and "glossary"!
THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER OPENS MAY 9. TICKETS ARE NOW AVAILABLE.
About Haddonfield Plays & Players Haddonfield Plays & Players is a gathering of dedicated individuals who come together to provide quality theater at an affordable price to a wide range of Delaware Valley audiences, as well as to provide a creative outlet for non-professionals, all in an atmosphere of personal and social enrichment that is open to all persons with a commitment to non-profit theater. Haddonfield Plays and Players is located at 957 East Atlantic Ave., Haddonfield, NJ, 08033.