The Man Who Came to Dinner
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
December 7, 2011
When it comes to Christmas movies, you can keep Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life. Just leave me Monty Woolley and Bette Davis in The Man Who Came to Dinner. While the movie is a delightful substitute, any opportunity to see Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s play live is a golden one. Dan Wackerman’s current production for The Peccadillo Theater Company is imperfect, though still sufficiently entertaining.
The play is a star vehicle for the actor playing the acerbic, rude, nasty and ultimately big-hearted man of letters Sheridan Whiteside (modeled on Alexander Woollcott), forced to spend the weeks leading up to Christmas, 1939 in a wheelchair in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Stanley in Mesalia, Ohio after he slips on a patch of ice on the outside steps. Wreaking havoc from the moment he’s brought out from two weeks of bed rest, Whiteside turns the living room into the stomping ground for convicts, cockroaches, penguins, and eccentric actors, all of whom wish to visit their poor Sherry before Christmas.
Here, Whiteside is played by Jim Brochu, best known for his Zero Mostel in the play Zero Hour, with a surprising amount of introspection and restraint. Like the rest of the company, he tends to rush a lot of the lines, only some of them landing with the crackling humor they should. Amy Landon is quite affecting as Whiteside’s long-suffering secretary Maggie Cutler, who finally finds love, in the form of a local newspaper man (Jay Stratton). There is a loving tenderness to Brochu’s scenes with Landon, and you can tell quiet easily that once he realizes he may have sabotaged her one chance at true happiness, he’s immediately regretful.
John Windsor-Cunningham and Joseph R. Sicari also turn in surprisingly restrained performances as Beverly Carlton and Banjo, modeled after Noel Coward and Harpo Marx, respectively. Cady Huffman, the other headlining performer, simply hasn’t seemed to find her level of comfort as Gertrude Lawrence stand-in Lorraine Sheldon. Harry Feiner’s unit set is attractive and well-worn, as are Amy Bedigo-Otto’s costumes and Jimmy Lawlor’s lighting.
It’s always worthwhile to see a production of The Man Who Came to Dinner, one of the great comedies in the American canon, even flawed ones such as this.