Play presents test of stamina

Review

March 17, 2006|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At the Bowie Playhouse through April 1, 2nd Star's production of The Man Who Came to Dinner is being served up in tribute to the company's longtime backer and participant, Charles W. Maloney. As a vehicle to showcase Maloney's prodigious acting talents playing irascible Sheridan Whiteside, the 1939 Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman comedy works well. But this production is a bit too long.

Based upon famous drama critic and radio personality Alexander Woollcott, the play's Whiteside is invited to a dinner party at the home of small-town, celebrity-struck Ernest and Daisy Stanley. After a fall on their doorstep results in an injury that puts Whiteside in a wheelchair, he becomes a long-term houseguest.

In addition to his secretary, Maggie Cutler, and his nurse, Miss Preen, Whiteside commandeers the Stanleys' cook and butler to add to his retinue. He is in constant touch with - and visited by - a who's who of his era's glitterati and literati, some of whom sat at New York's famous Algonquin Round Table along with the theater's Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence. Most may be barely remembered by today's audiences, except for Admiral Byrd and Harpo Marx, an unlikely pair with enduring cachet.

The irascible Whiteside receives a number of gifts including a cage of penguins from Byrd and a ceramic doll mansion filled with roaches from Professor Metz. He also is visited by a steady stream of curious locals, celebrities, a handful of convicts supported by Whiteside and various entertainers including a group of Christmas-caroling children and professionals who ready his radio show to be broadcast from the Stanleys' residence.

This human panorama might have been amusing had it not required a huge cast in more scenes than could be comfortably endured. The Man Who Came to Dinner had a successful revival on Broadway in 2000 with Nathan Lane starring as Sheridan Whiteside in which the entire running time, with two 10-minute intermissions, was well under three hours. (The shortened time seemed to be essential to success, even with the King of Broadway in the lead.)

The three-act, two-intermission production at Bowie Playhouse has much in common with the dinner guest who overstays his welcome, both becoming endurance tests - one for the characters in the play and the other for the audience kept there until well after 11 p.m.

If ever a show required a director capable of judicious cutting, this is it. Had director Jane B. Wingard not been so intent on including everyone who wanted to participate in the Maloney tribute, she might have been able to eliminate enough now-forgotten or never-known characters to cut at least a half-hour.

In 2nd Star's production, those who are essential to the plot and able to keep up with the standarda and pace set by Maloney include Rosalie Daelemans as sassy, smart and caring Maggie Cutler, Whiteside's long-suffering secretary; Edward Kuhl, a stuffy but feisty Ernest Stanley; Susan Weber, who is funny as often-terrified Miss Preen; Patti Restivo as cook Sarah, who has the secret to Whiteside's heart; Jerry Khatcheressian, exactly right as butler John; and small-town newspaperman Bert Jefferson, who is also Maggie's love interest, played by Dean Davis.

Adding to the fun are Heather Tuckfield, who outrageously emotes as Lorraine Sheldon; Leo Knight who skillfully captures Banjo, playing the character as an amalgam of Groucho and Harpo Marx; and Heidi Toll who brings weirdness and laughs to the role of uptight Ernest Stanley's strange spinster sister, Harriet.

As usual, 2nd Star's set is a work of art with gorgeous furnishings and lamps to admire as designed by Lynne F. Wilson. The costumes designed by director Wingard are attractive and appropriate for the period. Garrett R. Hyde does a thoroughly professional job as usual with lights and sound.

This show offers plenty of laughs and many noteworthy performances. But it is at least a half-hour longer than it should be for audience comfort. A show that lasts over three hours demands too much from most audiences, even those who may be devoted fans.

The Man Who Came to Dinner runs at Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park on weekends through April 1. Reservations may be made by calling 301-858-7245 or 410-757-5700.

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