Pictures by McCall Doyle at Gilded Photography
'Man Who Came to Dinner' Brings Comic Relief to FCT Stage
By Dixie Walters
January should become a little more lively with the Jan. 13 opening of the farcical comedy, "The Man Who Came to Dinner" at the Fauquier Community Theatre. The 1930s-era play revolves around an egotistical cultural critic and radio personality who overstays his welcome on a dinner visit to a Midwestern home.
The shenanigans begin when Sheridan Whiteside (played by Jack Seeley of Leesburg) slips on ice and suffers an injury as he makes his way into the utterly conventional Ohio home of the Stanley family. Believing Whiteside has broken his leg, an inept local doctor insists that the critic remain indefinitely at the home of the Stanleys, played by Scott Pierce and Holly Martin Czuchna, and their children, played by Marc White and Hannah Malinowski.
As it turns out, Whiteside is everything you don't want in a houseguest. Arrogant, self-centered and manipulative, he quickly takes over the house from his wheelchair and begins to meddle in the affairs of the helpless homeowners, their children and household staff. Even after it's revealed that Whiteside's injury isn't serious, he plots to stay as a house guest and carry on with his conniving ways.
Meanwhile, Whiteside's colorful lifestyle infringes on the once-quiet home of the Stanleys. As Christmas nears, eccentric characters descend upon the household, including ex-convicts, beneficiaries of one of Whiteside's charitable causes, and unusual gifts arrive from his acquaintances around the world, including an Egyptian sarcophagus and a live octopus, which is given sanctuary in the basement.
Rooted in Reality
The character of Sheridan Whiteside was based on Alexander Woollcott, a well-known theater critic in the 1930s and a friend of the playwrights, Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. In fact, an unannounced visit by Woollcott to Hart's home provided the inspiration for the play.
Other cultural touchstones of the time appear in the play and will be noted by older audience members. For instance, the Stanleys have a female relative living with them who is ostensibly based on Lizzie Borden, the notorious axe murderer.
"The Man Who Came to Dinner" was first produced on Broadway in 1939 and later made into a 1942 movie starring Bette Davis in the role of Maggie, Whiteside's secretary, and Jimmy Durante as Banjo, a role modeled after Harpo Marx. More recently, the play had a Broadway revival in 2000, with Nathan Lane in the role of Whiteside.
Although the play is firmly rooted in the milieu of the 1930s, accomplished director Ted Ballard says the play has been adapted in a way to make it accessible to mature theatergoers of all ages. "It's a funny, fast-paced show. There's some nostalgia that will be more familiar to some, but everyone can appreciate the humor of the situation," Ballard says.
The cast numbers about 30, with some actors doubling up on minor parts. Besides Seeley in the lead role, other cast members include Corinne Shumaker as Maggie, Joe Bersack as Banjo, Craig Czuchna as the absent-minded Dr. Bradley and Kathleen Donovan as Miss Preen.
This is the last weekend of the play, Jan. 27 - Jan. 29. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. For more information and to purchase tickets online, visit www.fctstage.org or call 540.349.8760. The Fauquier Community Theatre is located at 4225 Aiken Drive in Vint Hill. "The Man Who Came to Dinner" is sponsored by John Clark with Middleburg Mortgage.