Guess Who's Coming To Dinner Is A Theatrical Winner At The Ivoryton Playhouse CT

Photo by Jonathan Steele. The ensemble cast of Guess Who's Coming To Dinner at Ivoryton Playhouse CT

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner Is A Theatrical Winner At The Ivoryton Playhouse CT

By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle.

The Ivoryton Playhouse has wisely chosen a superbly written adaptation by Todd Kriedler of the ground-breaking movie Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. When the 1967 movie was made, it was still illegal for interracial couples to marry in fourteen states.

San Francisco is the perfect setting for this still-relevant story. Matt and Christina Drayton are a wealthy liberal couple whose daughter Joanna (played by Katelyn Nichols), living in Hawaii, arrives home unexpectedly with her fiancé, Dr. John Prentice (Marc D. Lyons), an African American doctor 11 years her senior. Having already decided to marry, they’ve come to San Francisco en route to the Doctor’s new job on a research project in Belgium. Before embarking on a new life in Europe, they’re asking for their marriage to be immediately blessed by Joanna’s parents. Therein lie the compelling difficulties in the tale.

Dad Matt (Gordon Clapp* best remembered as Det. Greg Medavoy on NYPD Blue) and Mother Christina (Kaia Monroe*) quickly come to realize the difference between supporting a mixed-race couple in theory, and in the reality of welcoming such a union into their own family.

The second act “surprise” as to who is coming to dinner creates racial, generational and familial conflict. Will the young idealists prevail, or will the older generation’s ingrained prejudiced attitudes destroy a loving relationship?

This ensemble piece becomes more enthralling, absorbing and witty with each well-paced scene. And the actors totally portray the truth found the well-written characters.

Richarda Abrams* plays Tillie the housekeeper as a pivotal part of the story from scene one. Ms. Abrams knows how to get a laugh, and her character can swing from threatening to hysterically funny with just one look.

It’s unclear in the first scene why the annoying character of Hillary St. George (Krista Lucas) is running around the apartment setting up a plethora of awful paintings on easels. One does not “get” why she was even included in the play, but all is revealed later in the action.

Mr. Clapp and Ms. Monroe in their roles do justice to the film’s stars, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. They fully understand how to play the dynamic of a wealthy couple on the liberal side of the political spectrum and the responsibility that they have taken on to change the inequalities of the national psyche.  The second set of parents commandingly portrayed by John Prentice Sr. (Cedric Cannon*) and Mary Prentice (Kimberlee Monroe*) are hostile to the idea of their son about to be put into a position of the danger inherent in a mixed-marriage in the face of the blatant bigotry that they have themselves witnessed.

Blessing the entire cast is the always delightful R. Bruce Connelly* as Monsignor “Mike” Ryan, a voice of reason in the wilderness of confusion, fear, and bigotry – and a big fan of a glass or two of bourbon.

This classic story is witty, insightful and gut-wrenching at times. It points out, without over preaching, but with strength, that the problems of 50 years ago are still with us. One step forward, three steps backward. It allows the audience to witness how history can repeat itself despite all good intentions, but, in the end, the hope that reason and goodness can, and will, prevail.

The play is skillfully directed by Kathryn Markey, whose deft blocking moves the actors around the magnificent set designed by Daniel Nischan – a deluxe two-story apartment complete with sunken living room and terrace overlooking both the city and the Golden Gate Bridge. The setting, with expert lighting design by Marcus Abbott and costumes by Elizabeth Saylor, evokes how a Nob Hill residence may have looked in 1960’s California. This is a must-see experience in theater, with an ensemble cast that is passionately telling a well-known story in a new light.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner is at the Ivoryton Playhouse at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton CT through May 12, 2019.  

*denotes member of Actors Equity.