Produced by: Palo Alto Players
Directed by: Patrick Klein
Featuring: James Shelby, Jennifer Ellington, Roneet Aliza Rahamim, Henry Alper, Astrid Nazario, Shawn Bender, Patricia Tyler, Chris Mahle, Todd L. Summers, Kristen Lo, Tim Farrell, Gary Richard, Paul Dunlap, Justin Brown, Athena Rink, Barry Bai, Brian Flegel, Emily Scott
Running time: 150 minutes, two intermissions
When: June 15 through July 1, 2018
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Tickets: $25-$52 (discounts available). Visit paplayers.org or call 650-329-0891.
'Man Who Came to Dinner'
at Lucie Stern Theatre, thanks to Palo Alto Players
A standout performance by James Shelby (mainly sitting down) as critic, curmudgeon and callous schemer Sheridan Whiteside lifts this rather dusty old comedy into the limelight again. He does a wonderful job of generally directing mayhem and mischief from his wheelchair — cigarette holder in one hand and a telephone in the other.
It's the 1930s and, before the start of the piece, Whiteside falls on the steps of the Stanley family residence, ostensibly breaking his leg or possibly his hip, necessitating a number of weeks of recovery holed up at said residence, where he takes over the downstairs and relegates the family to the upper floors.
The action — a lot of comings and goings — all takes place downstairs with a luxurious sofa at center stage. A large piano at one wall, and a set of stairs at the back complete the set, with a number of doors to adjoining rooms allowing the cast to enter and exit from multiple points. Which is useful, as this is a fairly large cast, with 18 actors playing some 28 characters. Family members, servants, assorted doctors and professors, actors and actresses, convicts and policemen. Plus the penguin crate, cockroach city, and octopus, err, tent?
Although directed by Palo Alto Players Artistic Director Patrick Klein, the cast is made up almost entirely of teachers and alumni from Gunn and Palo Alto high schools, and Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School. Shelby himself, playing the central role of sarcastic radio personality Sheridan Whiteside, is Gunn High School's drama teacher, and Kristen Lo, who plays Whiteside's assistant Maggie Cutler, also teaches drama at Gunn. These two look and sound great, alongside Chris Mahle, who plays a number of roles including madcap Hollywood actor Banjo. Banjo is a treat, livening up a rather wordy script with some Harpo Marx-like antics.
During his enforced sojourn at the Stanley residence, between telephone calls from Mahatma Gandhi and Walt Disney ("'Fantasia' wasn't your fault. Beethoven hasn't had a hit in years."), Whiteside's assistant Maggie falls in love with newspaperman Bert Jefferson (Paul Dunlap). Informing Whiteside of her desire to leave his employ, Maggie sorts out his final diary entries. However, Whiteside is not about to let his Girl Friday escape so easily. He arranges for his actress friend Lorraine Sheldon (Athena Rink, in fabulous outfits by Mary Cravens) to take an interest in the play that Bert has written, promising to get it produced.
This scuppers Maggie's wedding plans, but she cooks up a scheme of her own, which sadly Whiteside sees through, and the plot continues to twist and turn to its inevitably happy, though somewhat complex, ending. Henry Alper, who plays the lovestruck Richard Stanley, puts on a strong performance. There are convicts involved as well.
Anyway, a fun little piece that will tickle the fancy of those of a certain age. The references and gags won't be understood by the younger generation, though if they have any connection to Gunn High School, they may find it fun to see some of their teachers up on stage. This really is a community effort by Palo Alto Players, and shows their commitment to keeping theater local, involved, and entertaining.
Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at email@example.com