GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNERBy Todd Kreidler (as adopted from the screenplay by William Rose)
Lunatic Theatre Company
Directed by Directed by Rachael Lindley
Stage Manager- Penny Elaine
Sound Design –Richard Stephens, Sr.
Lighting Design, Sound/Light Board Operator –Wyatt Moore
Set Design –Eddy Herring and Leigh Wyatt Moore
Costume Design – Courtney Walsh
Props – Cast and crew
Production Assistant-Elizabeth Moore
Gary Anderson-Matt Drayton
Patricia Hill-Matilda Banks
Calvin Gabriel-John Prentice Sr.
Budd Mahan-Monsignor Ryan
Sean Massey-Dr. John Prentice
Leigh Wyatt Moore-Christina Drayton
Kennedy O'Kelley-Joanna Drayton
Carol M. Rice-Hillary St. George
Cheryl Lincoln-Mary Prentice
Reviewed Performance: 6/7/2019
Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Too perfect for a drama, right? Just wait.
The cherished, accomplished twenty-five year old daughter Joanna, aka "Joey" since her brother's death, makes a surprise appearance—with a surprise guest. And those wonderful, intelligent values that her parents taught her—do Mom and Dad really believe that stuff? Maybe not.
Here, the date and setting are pivotal: America in the year 1967. And what that means could not possibly be communicated to a 2019 audience without the gloriously talented cast, and direction, that Lunatic Theatre and Richardson Theatre Centre have brought us in this production of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
While working at a hospital in Hawaii, Joanna has fallen in love with a doctor who fell in love with her. And not just any doctor: Dr. John Prentice is an internationally respected, well-published expert on tropical medicine who has saved thousands of lives with his pioneering work and scientific genius. His achievements are so legion that it is shocking that the man is only thirty-six. He is witty, charming, humble, has been a widower for the past eight years, and as a gentleman, he is waiting for his marriage to Joanna to consummate their relationship. So the Draytons are overjoyed, right?
They are shocked. They have to sit down. He's black. Everyone is freaking out in the year 1967.
Patricia Hill as Tilly, the traditionally uniformed maid and extraordinary chef, is a scene-stealer for her commanding, eye-popping glare and sassy, ever-insightful observations (“old friends never survive new wives”). We are also treated to her beautiful, powerful singing. Early on, she communicates the de facto cast system and Dr. Prentice's great sin in moving out of his lane.
As Joanna's mother Christina Drayton, Leigh Wyatt Moore shines. Her character's initial sheer shock orients the audience to the year 1967. From there, Joanna's mother is the primary moral driver of the drama. Moore does this—it's really a beautiful performance—with purity. As played by Moore, Christina has not a care in the world as to whether she gets credit for doing the right thing. After her reality is reshuffled, she gets to the core of the issue, and tells her man off.
If you are a fan of the movie, you will appreciate Gary Anderson in Spencer Tracy's role. As alleged liberal icon Matt Drayton, Anderson mimics Spencer Tracy's movements--he even has the glasses. The entire cast is called upon to deliver a manner of soliloquy at one point or another, but Anderson's is the most climatic, and he does not disappoint. Matt Drayton's world order has been reconfigured-without appropriate advance notice, and he has hours to make a crucial decision about his one surviving child.
Anderson and Moore are crackling good as parents facing off over the future of their daughter. Christina tells her husband that if he breaks their daughter's heart by withholding his consent to the marriage, Mom is on Daughter's side, not his.
As the earnest, beautiful Joanna, Kennedy O’Kelley successfully finesses her character’s seeming cluelessness. O’Kelley infuses Joanna with enough honest optimism to make the character’s nonchalance excusable, even endearing.
As Dr. Prentice’s dignified mother Mary Prentice, Cheryl Lincoln delivers a beautiful performance. Mary steals the stage to extoll the virtue and power of true love.
Monsignor Ryan, played with easy patrician grace by Budd Mahan, makes the same point as he tries to steer his friend and golfing buddy Matt to make the right decision. A lifelong family friend, Ryan reminds Matt that Joanna is mature and level-headed, that he should listen to his competent wife, and that star-crossed relationships can be all the deeper because of the extraordinary commitment that the couples make.
The Monsignor character is a poignant reminder of what clergy are supposed to be. He initially declines the dinner invitation because he does not want to intrude, but changes his mind when he realizes the family probably needs him. Finally exacerbated with his friend, he hits him with the truth. Matt is off balance because, “you’ve gone back on yourself, and you know it.” Matt, however, claims he is terrified for the safety of his one surviving child.
At one point, Matt and Dr. John treat the idea of one of John and Joanna’s future children (he is a black man and she is a white woman and they met in Hawaii) becoming President as a joke. In fact, that future black President was already six years’ old in 1967. And there have been other civil rights improvements since. When two competent adults truly love each other, then the choice—which Matt Drayton struggled with—is to accept it graciously or be the ignoramus jerk in the room. The box Matt Drayton is in arguably explains much of the social changes in the decades since Guess Who was written. This play had me reminiscing about that beautiful moment in the Proposition 8 case, when Justice Kennedy said that the 40,000 California children with parents in same-sex relationships were important.
Get out of the way of true love. Don’t be the jerk in the room. A lot of this play is the cast explaining that to Dad.
Sean Massey is Poitier-poised and endearing as the genius dish Dr. John Prentice, ever-graceful whether he is laughing off racism or bonding with his would-be father-in-law over brandy and Joe Lewis. Massey is a talent to watch. When I saw him last year, he played an injured, struggling ex-con, and here, he has transmogrified himself into a Sidney Poitier stand-in: his voice, his posture, his mannerisms, his base-line expression, entire stage presence—completely transformed. (I had to look up the name, actually).
I saw the famous movie decades ago as a T.V. rerun, and I remembered that it is about a rich girl who gets to marry Sidney Poitier, and her faux-liberal parents lose their stuff. Sidney Poitier was born at the intersection of charming and scrumptious—but that's only why the daughter wants to marry him, not why the parents can be expected to accept him. I actually remembered, decades later, that the Poitier character is a world-renown scientist. Lily-white Mon and Dad can get over themselves by sending their rich friends a copy of Dr. Prentice's book with the wedding announcement, was my take on it then.
What I did not remember, and thank you Lunatic Theatre Company and Richardson Theatre Centre for staging this play, is Dr. Prentice's parents. They are the titular "guess who" coming to dinner. And, Prentice Senior is no fan of a marriage that could get his son lynched—and has a better argument on that score, frankly, than Matt Drayton. My one criticism about the script, as prescient and on-point as it was, is the short-shrift given to John Senior’s resolution of the crisis. Regardless, Calvin Gabriel is marvelous as an outraged father who cannot believe the folly of his accomplished son jeopardizing his life by dangerously breaking a taboo.
Carol M. Rice is humorous as Hillary St. George, Christina’s shallow, frenemy assistant exercising the quotidian racism of the times (Hillary tells Tilly, “Don’t touch the paintings . . . You’re not insured by the gallery.”). Rice and Moore do a great job with a tense conversational twist.
The set is exquisitely true to the 1967 time frame, complete with modern art and two chairs in garish 1960’s orange. The barware is to be coveted (characters not infrequently need a drink). The costumes are authentic, from Tilly’s maid’s costumes to Joanna’s plaid mini-dress. Rice makes an entrance in a gorgeous powder blue sheath, with matching coat and gloves. The period music is entertaining beforehand and at intermission. The sound and light design are seamlessly functional.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a thought-provoking drama brought to life by imminently satisfying performances. The entire production, and every actor, is first rate. If you are a theater fan, do not miss this production!
LUNATIC THEATRE COMPANY
June 7 through 23, 2019
RICHARDSON THEATRE CENTRE
518 W Arapaho Rd Ste 113, Richardson, TX 75080
For information and Tickets call (972) 699-1130 or go to http://richardsontheatrecentre.net/.