PICKSINSIX Review: GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER
RIGHT THERE IN BLACK AND WHITE
Meet Matilda “Tillie” Banks … There is quite a bit of Tillie in all of us. In fact, the world might be a whole lot better if we could bottle up her special mix of irreverence, humanity and infectious charm and spread it around when we think that everything is fine just the way it is. You see Tillie’s point of view of the eyebrow-raising revelations unfolding at the Drayton’s San Francisco hilltop home – served up in all its splendidly-stylish 1960’s glory in the superb new Court Theatre production of Todd Kreidler’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner directed by Marti Lyons with Associate Director Wardell Julius Clark – is a spot-on reflection of what we believe is our point of view. That’s why we relate so strongly to her, even as the two families involved – one white and one black – struggle with essentially the same bias and prejudice toward one another. Don’t get too comfortable or be fooled by all of this. Our prejudices are still very much intact, 50 years later, and they are hard to miss in the intimate confines of the Abelson Auditorium. It’s all right there in black and white.
Packed and ready to go … If you are not familiar with the story, you need to know that it is spring 1967, Joanna “Joey” Drayton and Dr. John Prentice are ten days in love and have returned for a very short visit to tell her parents, Matt and Christina, that they are getting married. Christina’s excitement for the news slowly dissolves as she finds out from Joey that in addition to John being a world-renowned research physician, he is also an older, black man. Matt, whose golf game has been suddenly and mysteriously interrupted by a telephone call from Tillie, is equally aghast at the news and decides that he needs time to process. There isn’t much of that around because we learn that the couple is leaving that night and Joey has invited John’s parents over for dinner. This is when it all gets very interesting because we find out that the poised and proper John has not been altogether forthcoming about the situation with his parents at all. In between Tillie stepping in to hold things together and stocking the bar so Monsignor Ryan can make it to the first course, we see all the hilarious and poignant sides of this complex situation play out.
What’s really happening … Despite how we feel personally about bias and prejudice, facing up to it in our own lives is another matter. That is what’s really happening to these families. Tillie and Monsignor Ryan represent the voices of reason, reminding us that the bigotry of the past — embodied early on by Hilary St. George (Rachel Sledd) whose zero-tolerance dismissal is a vitally important event — is still prevalent in every sector of our society. This play fits well into our national dialogue, an inspired choice for Court's season, and further proof that even in this very entertaining and fast-paced comedy, the underlying issues of race in America are profoundly real.
Who stands out … The remarkably talented and balanced ensemble combines Mary Beth Fisher, Tim Hopper, Jacqueline Williams and Dexter Zollicoffer from the houses of Drayton and Prentice. Fisher and Williams bring maturity and sensitivity to their roles, displaying a wide range of patience and empathy for their children, in contrast to the autocratic nature of the fathers, deftly portrayed by Hopper and Zollicoffer, who wrestle openly with their own fears that are squarely based in social perceptions of the time. Hopper gives an impassioned summation that speaks to universal acceptance. Michael Aaron Pogue's considerable talent is on full display when he is defending his right to a life of his choosing and standing with the charming Bryce Gangel (Joanna) to both support and defend their decision. Dan Waller is perfect as the spirited Monsignor Ryan, who actually is spirited throughout. The evening, however, belongs to the marvelous Sydney Charles who wraps herself up in Tillie's subtle and not-so-subtle musings with uproarious delight.
Split-level interior … Scott David has created a 60’s era split-level stark white interior, centered in the shadow of massive scaffolding and bridge abutments in the wings that together with Samantha Jones’ costumes and lighting by Lee Fiskness suggest that this is a snapshot in the rearview mirror of life and not to be confused with anything closer than it appears. Then again ...
Special Film Series … The Court Theatre will be hosting three film screenings at various locations including the original 1967 film version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. The screening will be held on Saturday, April 7th at 3:00 p.m. at the Logan Center for the Arts, 2nd floor. Complimentary admission with reservations at: www.CourtTheatre.org.
GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER
Written by Todd Kreidler
Directed by Marti Lyons
with Associate Director Wardell Julius Clark
through April 15th