When the Rhinebeck Theatre Society (RTS) put on The Man Who Came to Dinner as its very first production back in 1986, its members were hopeful. Isn’t any group of diehard theatre buffs naturally imbued with enough hope that their first season, at least, will prove to be a success? Fast-forward a quarter-century, and the RTS is now recognized as one of the Hudson Valley’s most acclaimed community theatre groups, celebrating 25 years of success with a new production of that same fast-moving three-act comedy.
In choosing to reproduce The Man Who Came to Dinner, RTS was looking to create an appropriately festive drama with enough comedy, perhaps, to divert the season’s inherent tensions. Couldn’t we all do with a little zaniness, a little ridiculous plot that takes us away from whatever problems the world has in store? That might have been the intention of writers George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart back in 1939 when they came up with this absurdity. A prominent lecturer, Sheridan Whiteside, slips on the ice on his way into the home of an equally prominent Ohio family. The attending doctor says that Whiteside must remain confined there, having broken his leg. And then he begins to mess around with the lives of everyone in the household, whereupon the real craziness ensues.
RTS president Ellen Honig, who is directing the new production, has said, “It’s pure entertainment and a fresh alternative to the traditional holiday-season theatre fare. Everyone involved in the production is having fun, and the pure joy flows right through to the audience.”
The romp back to the 1930s is, in itself, a challenge for costumers of the more than 30 characters – and for the actors as well, who must at least refer to world stage actors not necessarily known to contemporary audiences. A handy reference guide to Sheridan Whiteside’s famous and infamous friends includes a Who’s Who in the 1939 Smart Set: actors, entrepreneurs, stage and screen stars, scientists, songwriters, photographers, Nobel Prizewinners, a cartoonist, socialites, opera singers, a Supreme Court justice, Hollywood producers, musicians, attorneys, an Italian fashion designer and a certain Surrealist Spanish painter, among others – all with actual identities, names that might be recognized by an educated audience. When the overbearing, egotistical radio personality unexpectedly finds himself confined to a wheelchair in a small-town Ohio home as Christmas approaches, the surprises never let up as this stream of unlikely characters shows up at the doorstep.
The cast in order of appearance includes Karen Forray as Mrs. Ernest W. Stanley, Linda Roper as Miss Preen, Ryan Thomas as Richard Stanley, Caityn Connelly as June Stanley, Fred C. Fishberg as John and Professor Metz and Westcott, Susan Brooks as Sarah, Paige Segrell as Mrs. Dexter, Fran Cohon as Mrs. McCutcheon, Walter Bost as Mr. Stanley, Marie Du Sault as Maggie Cutler, John LeFever as Dr. Bradley, Douglas Hoffman as Sheridan Whiteside, Faith Compo as Harriet Stanley, Rick Lange as Bert Jefferson, Jim Colacino as Mr. Baker and Davis, Nanette Dalton as Lorraine Sheldon, Anthony Lay as Sandy, Bill Ross as Beverly Carlton, Michael Juzwak as Banjo, and Joe Paranello and Jeff Ackerly as various luncheon guests, deputies and deliverymen.
The Center for Performing Arts is located on Route 308 in Rhinebeck. Call (845) 876-3080 or visit https://www.centerforperformingarts.org for tickets and information. Seats are $20 general admission, $18 for seniors and students, for six performances to be staged from November 18 through the 27th. Shows begin Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. For more information about RTS and The Man Who Came to Dinner, visit https://rhinebecktheatresociety.blogspot.com.