Farce from the 1930s set in holiday season to showcase local talent in December.
By: BOB HERPEN
Experience the madcap home life that defines “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” the fall play that will be presented at Cherry Hill High School East early next month. Four performances will be held with a twist unique to this particular troupe: two separate casts will be involved, red and white, which will stage the play twice each.
The send-up of celebrity and Hollywood culture is a comedy in three acts, written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. It is set in the small town of Mesalia, Ohio, in the weeks leading to Christmas in the pre-World War II era, and depicts the famously outlandish New York City radio raconteur Sheridan Whiteside as he is invited to dine at the house of well-to-do factory owner Ernest W. Stanley and his family.
Before Whiteside can enter the house, he slips on a patch of ice outside the Stanleys’ front door and injures his hip. Confined to their home and bound to a wheelchair, Whiteside is looked after by several professionals: Dr. Bradley, the absent-minded town physician, Miss Preen, his frantic nurse, and Maggie Cutler, his faithful secretary. Hilarity ensues.
“I guess what’s really interesting about this play, is that it’s based off real personalities of 1930s people and 1930s Hollywood. So Whiteside, for example, is based off Alexander Woollcott, who was a drama critic in New York at the time, and was very popular. He was known for the way he berated people and his general obnoxiousness,” said senior Jayson Borenstein, who plays Whiteside in the red cast.
Sheridan drives his hosts mad by viciously insulting them, monopolizing their house and staff, running up large phone bills, and receiving many bizarre guests, including paroled convicts. However, he manages to befriend the Stanleys’ children, June and Richard, as well as Mr. Stanley’s eccentric older sister Harriet.
Under the supervision of director Thomas Weaver during a rehearsal at East on Nov. 19, both sets of cast members ran through several scenes at once, and then listened intently at the edge of the stage as numerous details were discussed and corrections were made to alter various characters’ movements, stage position, body language and diction.
Jackson Feudtner, a junior who plays Bert Jefferson in the red cast said, “What I think is cool about this show, is that it’s such an intimate cast. We’re used to doing shows with 60 or 70 kids but this one has 35 to 40, so we are really getting to know each other and it really shows in the work we’re putting in. Especially in the characters and their interactions.”
Precision will be crucial to an accurate portrayal of the comedic aspects of the play, particularly emphasis on certain words, syllables within words, the spaces between words and the timing between characters within a given scene.
Jack Granite, who plays Sheridan Whiteside in the white cast, revealed what drew him to this play was the wittiness of the script.
“The comedies we’re used to in high school are slapstick comedies, where it’s like ‘deliver a joke, another character says something, then punchline’ whereas in this comedy, it’s about the conversation itself and the pace at which the conversation happens,” he said. “The pace of the show is very important, and we need to keep the comedy going with the pace.”
Students in both red and white casts said they were drawn to the play because the characters — both male and female — offer some kind of emotional depth, and they couldn’t pass up the chance to go along with a fast-paced emotional roller coaster and lose themselves in their roles.
Amanda Kahn, who plays Maggie in the white cast, appreciates the chance to blow off some steam from everyday life while tackling her role.
“The fact that it’s a comedy, because we’re so used to doing dramas for our fall shows,” she said. “It’s nice to have that change of pace. Doing a comedy is a lot harder than one would think, so it’s a challenge for all of us as actors to be able to be funny in a comedy like this one, which is very sophisticated.”
“The Man Who Came to Dinner” will run for four performances on three dates: Dec. 6, 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. The red cast will be featured on Dec. 6 and 8, while the white cast will be featured on Dec. 7 and 9. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for students, $5 for seniors with a gold card, and will be available one hour prior to showtime.