Laughter's on the menu when 24 actors bring to life "The Man Who Came to Dinner," a classic romp by Kaufman and Hart, announces Theatre of Western Springs. Directed by Tripp Burton, the play is on stage from April 16 to 26, and is suitable for all audiences.
Radio personality and egotistical tyrant Sheridan Whiteside slips and falls on the steps of the Stanley family residence and is forced to spend several weeks of recuperation in their home. He spews insults, barks orders, runs up enormous phone bills and single-handedly throws the Stanley household into chaos.
"I think Sheridan Whiteside is really one of the most original and memorable characters in the American theater, a man who you may love and hate at the same time, but will always laugh at," Burton said. "There isn't a character in this play who isn't memorable, quirky and funny, and there are 31 of them."
Whiteside further complicates matters, when his indispensable Girl Friday, Maggie Cutler, comes under the spell of a local newspaper editor, Bert Jefferson.
Panicked at the thought of losing Maggie, Whiteside plots to thwart the budding romance, and, in the process, entertains a never-ending parade of eccentric guests and bizarre critters ranging from penguins to cockroaches to octopi. By the time he realizes that his meddling has gone too far, the three-ring circus has taken on a life of its own.
"The Man Who Came to Dinner" was inspired by the authors' mutual friend, Alexander Woollcott, the model upon whom the lead character of Whiteside was based.
At the time the play was written, Woollcott was famous both as the critic who helped relaunch the career of the Marx Brothers, and as the star of the national radio show "The Town Crier." While well-liked by both playwrights, he had no problem displaying many of the obnoxious characteristics displayed by Whiteside.
Kaufmann and Hart had promised a vehicle for Woollcott, but had been unable to find a plot that suited them. That is until Woollcott showed up, unannounced, at Hart's Bucks County estate and proceeded to take over the house. He slept in the master bedroom, terrorized Hart's staff and generally acted like Whiteside.
Upon his departure, he wrote in Hart's guest book, "This is to certify that I had one of the most unpleasant times I ever spent."
Hart related the story to Kaufman. As they were laughing about it, Hart remarked he was lucky Woollcott had not broken his leg and become stuck there. Kaufman looked at Hart and the idea was born.
"It is always exciting to get to bring a great American comedy to the stage," Burton said. "But it can also be a little scary. The play is now 75 years old, so how do you make sure that the play stays as funny and accessible to a modern audience as it did back in 1939? It helps when the show is as perfectly written as this show. We are making sure that we keep the show filled with energy and spontaneity, while also paying tribute to what has made this show last the test of time. It is going to be a hilarious evening at the theater."
Show times and tickets
• 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, April 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25
• 2:30 p.m. Sundays, April 19, 26
• 2:30 p.m. Saturday, April 25
• 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 19
Tickets cost $18 and $20. Call the box office at 708-246-3380 or visit www.theatrewesternsprings.com.
Tripp Burton of Darien makes his mainstage directorial debut at TWS. For 11 years, he has been a faculty member of the Children's Theatre of Western Springs, and has been the advisor of the High School Repertory Company for four years.
Among his more than 15 directing credits at CTWS are the world premiere of "Al Capone Does My Shirts," "Sideways Stories from Wayside School," "Much Ado About Nothing," "The Sparrow," "Urinetown," "13," "RENT," and Monty Python's "Spamalot."
In addition, Burton has worked throughout the Chicago area as a director, playwright and actor, and was artistic director of Young Actors Ensemble in Naperville. He is a graduate of the Theatre Department at Illinois Wesleyan University.
The collaboration between George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart lasted from 1930 to 1940. When Hart was introduced to Kaufman, he couldn't believe his incredible good luck, because Kaufman was one of the most successful playwrights in the country.
Hart wrote a play, and then he and Kaufman rewrote it and rewrote it again – right up until it opened in September 1930. The play was called "Once in a Lifetime," and it became one of the great successes of its time.
They went on to write seven other shows together. They all won enthusiastic attention, and the opening of each was a major event. The seven were "Merrily We Roll Along" (1934), "You Can't Take It with You" (1936), "I'd Rather Be Right" (1937), "The Fabulous Invalid" (1938), "The American Way" (1939), "The Man Who Came to Dinner" (1939), and "George Washington Slept Here" (1940).
After 1940, the two parted ways, but not because they had a falling out. Hart felt the need to prove to himself that his success was not the result of any sort of dependence on Kaufman. In fact, Hart did enjoy continued success as a solo playwright and a screenplay writer for the next 17 years.
Kaufman wrote successfully as a solo playwright before and after working with Hart, and the two men remained the best of friends until Kaufman's death in 1961. At the funeral, Hart delivered a moving tribute to Kaufman and, barely seven months later, died in December.
Miss Preen Karen Arnold of Westmont
Michaelson/Expressman Jason Blackwell of Lombard
Sandy Brandon Byrd of Hinsdale
Richard Stanley Tristan Collins of Woodridge
John Joe Delaloye of La Grange
Dr. Bradley George Dempsey of Hinsdale
Mrs. McCutcheon Judy DiVita of Naperville
Mrs. Dexter Danna Durkin of Darien
Professor Metz Bill Hammack of Lisle
Harriet Stanley Terry Harrold of Naperville
Sarah Pat Huth of La Grange Park
Sheridan Whiteside Jonathan Kraft of Indian Head Park
Maggie Cutler Sharon Kushiner of Willow Springs
Henderson/Expressman Gene Leeb of Oakbrook Terrace
Bert Jefferson Jason McCargo of Western Springs
Westcott/Deputy John Mueller of Lemont
Banjo Jim Nerison of Chicago
June Stanley Elizabeth Owsley of Mr. Prospect
Beverly Carlton Michael-Colin Reed of Forest Park
Mrs. Daisy Stanley Mary Ellen Schutt of Westmont
Lorraine Sheldon Tina Shelley of Brookfield
Mr. Ernest Stanley Tom Viskocil of Woodridge
Director Tripp Burton of Woodridge
Stage Manager Denny Wise of Lisle
Ass’t. Stage Manager Tom D. Schutt of Westmont
Ass’t. Stage Manager Cathy Van Horne of La Grange
Box Office Mary Ellen Schutt of Westmont
Costumes Arlene Bibbs of West Chicago
Dramaturg Michael Bolton of La Grange
Hospitality Nicole Leatherwood of Darien
House Manager Mike Janke of Downers Grove
Lights Linda Bugielski of Indian Head Park
Makeup Jennifer Price of Burr Ridge
Production Coordinator Mary Ellen Schutt of Westmont
Program Editor Ed Barrow of Hinsdale
Program Editor Debbie Angelillo of Oak Brook
Program Editor Dennis Fry of La Grange
Props Tim Feeney of Downers Grove
Props Sue Wisthuff of La Grange
Publicity Kathy Kovarik of Chicago
Sandwich Sunday Jim Hannigan of Hinsdale
Sandwich Sunday Arlene Page of Burr Ridge
Set Construction Tim Gannon of La Grange Park
Set Design Deanna Markos of Western Springs
Set Dresser Jen Torchia of Lombard
Set Painting Sandy Squillo of Clarendon Hills
Sound Joe Mills of Westchester
Technical Director Thad Hallstein of Chicago
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