Thanks to the presence of radio wit and all-around scourge Sheridan Whiteside (Gary Maggio), the living room of the Stanley family of Mesalia, Ohio, becomes a sort of Bermuda Triangle for Midwesterners: Enter, and you are blown off course by the Great Man’s windy retorts.
This 1939 comedy by Kaufman and Hart is being given a handsome production by the forces at Home Made Theater, with a 24-member cast under the sure direction of Dianne O’Neill Filer.
Whiteside is recuperating at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley (Joseph Bruton and Pat Brady) after a fall outside their front door. Into the living room troop Whiteside admirers, including Dr. Bradley (a fine Charles Fitz-Gerald) and newsman Bert Jefferson (Mark Todaro); Whiteside simply barks at most of them while trying to carry on his professional life far from Gotham.
Whiteside is soon surprised by the burgeoning love between his secretary, Maggie (Amanda Martini-Hughes) and Jefferson. In order to prevent her from leaving him, Whiteside calls on glamorous actress Lorraine Sheldon (Toni-Anderson-Sommo) to tempt Jefferson away. But by Act III the guilt-ridden Whiteside himself is adrift in that Bermuda Triangle.
‘The Man Who Came to Dinner’
WHERE: Home Made Theater, Spa Little Theater, Saratoga Springs
WHEN: Through May 2
HOW MUCH: $27-$24
MORE INFO: 587-4427, homemadetheater.org
References to personalities and events from the 1930s barely amuse anymore, despite the footnotes in the program. There is, however, enough fun elsewhere to keep the play engaging. We can chuckle at public fascination with the rich and famous, which today’s social media have made all the more possible.
The rich and famous themselves certainly turn out to be delightfully pretentious. The cat-and-mouse game between Maggie and Whiteside is humorous. A goofy bit with a mummy case works, thanks to Anderson-Sommo’s spot-on timing. And who doesn’t love to see the high and mighty get a good comeuppance, as Whiteside does from his nurse, Miss Preen (a marvelous turn by the always dependable Robin Leary).
The tech work is first rate. Mary Fran Hughes has designed a stunning set, and Anne-Marie Baker and Steve Moulton have dressed it meticulously. Linda Bertrand’s costumes are period perfect, and Kyle Van Sandt and Barry Streifert are responsible for the brilliant lighting and sound effects, respectively.
Martini-Hughes’s Maggie credibly walks an emotional fine line between serving a boss she likes but knowing when her time has come to fulfill her own needs. Solid work.
Sal Fusco as the antic Banjo (think a talking Harpo Marx, on whom the character was based) gives Act III a lift. The free-wheeling Fusco is obviously having a ball with a character, whose life is a ball.
As Whiteside, who was modeled after literary and radio star Alexander Woollcott, Gary Maggio delivers a confident turn. If I wanted a little more bluster than snark in his delivery of Whiteside’s barbs, Maggio nevertheless fires them off with glee. And while I’m not sure I like the decision to make Whiteside quite so thoughtful in Act III — a little too Hamlet for my taste — Maggio scores in his gentle scenes with the Stanley children and the mysterious Harriet Stanley (Mary Ellen Dowling).
On opening night the production hummed along; I’m sure it will gather even more speed as the run continues.