Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Ivoryton Playhouse
Review by Zander Opper | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's reviews of Cadillac Crew, The Music Man and Come from Away


Marc D. Lyons, Katelyn Nichols, Gordon Clapp,
and Kaia Monroe

Photo by Jonathan Steele
Ivoryton Playhouse is currently presenting an intelligent and unexpectedly searing production of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Based on the screenplay by William Rose for the 1967 film, Todd Kreidler's play is true to the basic plot of the film: a young white woman brings an African-American man home to her parents, saying that she wants to marry him, and all sorts of complications arise, both racial and otherwise.

As such, the play is a respectful and accurate stage representation of the movie. If the playwright had stopped there, the play may have come off as being genteel and polite. Indeed, one can't help feeling at intermission that it has an almost museum-like feel to it. But when the second act opens, Kreidler reveals that he has a lot to add to the original material, with much of it being explosive and piercing. It turns out this play has quite a bit of spark in it. The production at Ivoryton Playhouse, directed by Kathryn Markey, is fully up to the playwright's aims, with a super cast and an attractive 1960s look about it. The entire cast is splendid and, more so than in the film, the play feels like an ensemble piece, with all the actors getting their chance to shine.

On a gorgeous set designed by Daniel Nischan, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner takes place in the home of Matt and Christina Drayton. These characters were originally portrayed by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, and the fine Gordon Clapp and Kaia Monroe pay homage to the original stars before wisely venturing off in new, individual directions. Katelyn Nichols is lovely as Matt and Christina's daughter Joanna, being much more self-aware of the situation she is putting her parents though than the film ever allowed. As the man she wants to marry, Dr. John Prentice, Marc D. Lyons may be saying a number of the same lines Sidney Poitier did in the movie, but he manages to carve out his own strong portrayal. Playing his parents, Cedric Cannon and Kimberlee Monroe do a great job, and they bring to the forefront what race relations were like in the 1960s. In smaller roles, Krista Lucas, Richarda Abrams, and, especially, R. Bruce Connelly are good.

In addition to working well with her actors, director Markey does a terrific job of staying true to the spirit of the original film, without being confined by it. By the second half of the play, any niceties about the true reality of the central couple getting married are firmly thrown out the window. It's almost as if this piece is able to show and illuminate the harsh consequences of what might happen to the couple in ways that weren't allowed in 1967. It is this freshness and toughness that brings the show to life.

The production also contains stylish, period-perfect costumes, excellently designed by Elizabeth A. Saylor. Lighting designer Marcus Abbott's work is extremely effective in helping to spotlight the various rooms and scenes within the Drayton home.

While this production can't begin to approximate the star power of the original film, it hardly matters. It can be entertaining, but also scary and, sadly, relevant to the present day: as the audience watches the two lovers of different races embrace at the conclusion, they may appreciate how far we have come but also realize, frighteningly, how far we have yet to go.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, through May 12, 2019, at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton CT. For tickets and information, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at 860-767-7318.


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