GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER presented Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through Feb. 17. I attended the first of two preview performances.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company begins 2018 celebrating the silver anniversary of the silver screen classic, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER.
Guest director D. Lynn Myers has gathered an excellent ensemble that creates an engaging, heartfelt, and emotionally-true production.
The young, engaged couple of Dr. John Prentice and Joanna Drayton are portrayed by Darnelle Pierre Benjamin and Caitlin McWerthy. Benjamin gives Prentice a quietly- grounded and deliberate personality, countered by McWerthy’s Joanna who is free-spirited, happy and eternally-optimistic. Together the two enjoy a united, easy chemistry as they are confronted with objections to their relationship.
As Joanna’s mother Christina, Annie Fitzpatrick projects a brave face to hide the concerns she has for her daughter’s future. Father Matt (Barry Mulholland) struggles to balance his held beliefs with the realities his daughter would face in a mixed marriage.
The arrival of Dr. Prentice’s parents, Ken Early and Thursday Farrar, only heightens the tension. Farrar brings a quiet dignity to Mary who suffers seeing her husband and son so at odds. As John Sr., Early displays a barely-contained rage at what he sees as a betrayal to the sacrifices he made to give his son the best possibly life.
Rounding out the cast is Kelly Mengelkoch as Hillary St. George, the high-strung manager of Christina’s high-end art gallery; Burgess Byrd as Tillie, the Drayton’s long-time and much put-upon maid; and Jim Hopkins as Monsignor Ryan who is equally adept at dispensing wisdom as he is wise-cracks.
The scenic design by Shannon Moore provides four distinct play areas that speak well to the affluence of the Drayton family. Amanda McGee’s costume designs establish not only the period, but the economic divide of the two families.
After the performance, I half-joked to my guest that I really enjoyed the show, but why did they do it as a period piece. Sadly, the script holds up very well fifty years later. Many of the concerns both families have for the how the world will treat the young, interracial couple are still valid today. In fact, the events of the past few years have re-exposed an ugliness that still infects this country.
But the play also instills hope. Several beautifully-staged scenes elicit tears from the audience as the characters connect over shared experiences and loss. There isn’t a dry eye on stage or off as Matt Drayton delivers his requested decision about their relationship.
Well-staged, emotionally strong and beautifully acted, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER holds a mirror up to the audience. Do you like what you see?
My rating: 4.75 out of 5.
Click here for more information on the production.