Not all houseguests are easy to get along with over an extended period of time. Some might be easy and not very stressful, but others can be disrespectful and lazy.
Premiere Productions’ interpretation of The Man Who Came to Dinner features a visitor who is an example of the latter. Radio personality and theater critic, Sheridan Whiteside (Vista’s Broadway Theater co-owner Randall Hickman) seems, at first, to be a pain in the neck. Despite his poor first impression, theatregoers at the Welk Resort Theatre find themselves being drawn to this witty entertainer.
The story takes place close to Christmas in the late 1930’s. Sheridan, or “Sherry,” slips in front of the home of factory owner, Ernest W. Stanley (James Winkler) and breaks his hip. He then spends time recovering in a wheelchair, and turns Ernest’s Mesalia, Ohio house into his own.
While staying at the abode, Sheridan gets to know more about the people who live at the Stanley residence. Although a few of them appreciate his company, Ernest quickly grows tired of Sheridan’s selfish and comically harsh personality.
Before Hickman appears onstage, the script starts with obvious exposition as Sheridan’s backstory is read aloud from a newspaper article. Once the main character is properly introduced, the comedy really starts to pick up speed.
Writers, Kauffman and Hart, know how to set up unusual situations and build on them in both acts. Minor lines, like Sheridan referencing his old friend, Banjo (Kenneth Gray), cleverly lead to jokes in Act II.
Shifting between dry humor and aggravated annoyance, Hickman hilariously showcases Sheridan’s increasingly strange behavior. Theatregoers are never fully aware of what he is capable of doing next.
Part of the enjoyment being a witness to Sheridan’s experiences is seeing the development of his relationships with the other characters. His connections with those he likes and those he despises reveals different layers about him. Regardless of his cynicism, he proves to be caring and kind at various points in the script.
Helping Sheridan show his humane side is his loyal secretary, Maggie Cutler (Brannon Shaw). Vulnerable and sensitive, Shaw brings sympathetic relatability to the assistant.
Maggie’s romance with a newspaperman, Bert Jefferson (Tim Benson) is a charming contrast to the odder events with her boss. Shaw and Benson have a nice rapport that’s sweet and not too sappy.
Fifteen other players round up the rest of the ensemble and new characters are introduced every few minutes. Winkler, M Susan Peck, Gray and Li-Anne Roswell all share enjoyably comical chemistry with Hickman.
As a director, Hickman seems to love showing how Sheridan takes over his temporary residence. Criminals, radio stars and ants are just a few of the things that appear in the Stanley casa.
Vista’s Broadway Theater’s co-owner, Douglas Davis, slowly builds to a festive ambience with his set, and his yuletide scenery creates a warm sense of nostalgia for Noel.
Jennifer Edwards’ lighting and Tommy Eyler’s audio are generally subtle. Their work shines in a scene where Hickman sings along to a recording of “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby.” The tune and playful visuals in the sequence foreshadow the increasing mischief that Sheridan causes.
The only time when The Man Who Came to Dinner slows down is a subplot involving Maggie’s rivalry with a man-eating actress, Lorraine Sheldon (Holly MacDonald). Both Cutler and MacDonald play these scenes well, but their encounters sometimes go on for extended periods of time.
Although it’s not an issue with the staging, be aware that a couple of pop culture references can go over the heads of modern audience members. Lines referring to Edgar Allen Poe and Shirley Temple hold up well, but not everyone will understand a quip about ZaSu Pitts.
Few people would want to live with Sheridan, yet his misadventures are enjoyable to watch. Being spoiled has rarely been so amusing.