Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” at the Indiana Repertory Theater (5 stars)

 

 

Director Skip Greer infuses humor into the show to balance the serious issues put forward by the play, keeping the audience engaged and entertained without feeling overwhelmed or preached to.

Chiké Johnson and Annie Munch in the IRT's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." Photo by Zach Rosing.
Chiké Johnson and Annie Munch in the IRT’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

***

Most people seem to be more familiar with William Rose’s 1967 screenplay of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner than the 2013 stage adaptation by Todd Kreidler, which is now at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. But the play holds true to the crux of the film: the slow, sometimes even painful evolution of racial relations, the importance of the family unit, and the strength of love.

Upper-middle-class Matt Drayton, played by Craig Spidle, is a vocal proponent of social justice. But when his ideals are challenged in real life, his stance changes abruptly. His 25-year-old daughter Joanna, played by Annie Munch, returns from her medical internship in Hawaii with a surprise: her fiancé, a 36-year-old widower who is a successful, acclaimed, but modest doctor who happens to be black.

If Dr. John Prentice, played by Chiké Johnson, had been white, would the family have reacted differently to their daughter’s whirlwind engagement and her plans to marry when she imminently follows her beau to Germany? Instead, the conflict is completely centered on the fact that the man is black. Each of their families is opposed to the match due to race; both think this will somehow ruin the couple’s lives.

Spidle’s Matt is all tirades, but Brigitt Markusfeld, as Matt’s wife Christina, approaches the role with a calmer attitude, (very) slowly grounding her husband’s bluster. Christina realizes how poorly they are acting when her assistant Hillary, who seems to be a harmless if affectatious woman played by Constance Macy, spews bigotry in her matter-of-fact plan to break up Joanna and John.

But it’s Tille, the Draytons’ black housekeeper, played by Lynda Gravátt, who is initially the most antagonistic toward John; however, she also provides a wealth of laughter (at least for the audience), as does Monsignor Ryan, played by Mark Goetzinger, a jovial, sotted voice of reason.

Munch’s Joanna is a bundle of upbeat, positive energy in contrast to Johnson, whose John exudes a more mature, refined demeanor—and a realistic one. He won’t proceed with the relationship if Joanna’s parents won’t approve it, knowing that their support is crucial to the couple’s life together.

But then Joanna ups the ante by secretly inviting John’s parents to dinner. Both of them are as shocked by the situation as Joanna’s parents are. The audience’s first glimpse of Nora Cole as John’s mother Mary is priceless. The look on her face says it all. John Prentice Sr., played by Cleavant Derricks, is even more biting than Matt is in his onslaughts toward John Jr.

Director Skip Greer infuses humor into the show to balance the serious issues put forward by the play, keeping the audience engaged and entertained without feeling overwhelmed or preached to.

B. Modern’s costume design is spot-on for the times, but most striking is the truly awesome set designed by Robert M. Koharchik. The multilevel, detailed set is possibly his most impressive creation yet.

 

Continues through February 4

Recommended for patrons in ninth grade and older; contains strong language, including racially charged dialogue.

Tickets are $20-$75

IRTEA TALK January 22, performance at 2 PM

HAPPY HOUR January 24, performance at 6:30 PM

POST-SHOW DISCUSSION February 2, performance at 2 PM

COOKIES & COFFEE February 2, performance at 2 PM

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freelance editor and writer

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