SBCC Invites The Man Who Came to Dinner

by Sara Barbour

The view from in front of SBCC’s West Campus Garvin Theatre is
staggering. A bright curve of green lawn drops away to the
uninhibited expanse of our beautiful harbor, the blue-green ocean
marked only by tiny white masts, while an equally picturesque
backdrop of mountains surrounds this glittering beachfront. Nothing
says endless summer like this scenic overlook, especially since it
is populated almost exclusively by students in shorts and
flip-flops. Santa Barbara in July — what better place or time to
enjoy some Christmas cheer?

With the well-known and much-loved classic comedy, The Man
Who Came to Dinner
, Santa Barbara City College Theatre Group
is poised to present just such an out-of-season experience,
providing summertime theater-goers with some of the spontaneous joy
and merriment that ordinarily only emerges in the winter days
leading up to December 25. Kaufman and Hart’s classic Broadway hit
spins the comic yarn of Sheridan Whiteside, a famously obnoxious
critic who gets stranded for the holidays in the previously
uneventful home of an ordinary American family, and proceeds to do
his utmost to disturb the peace. Whiteside manages to wreak havoc
on both the Stanley family’s conservative household and his
secretary’s budding romance with a local playwright. The outrageous
Whiteside is based on real-life New York critic Alexander
Woollcott, a friend of the play’s writers, George Kaufman and Moss
Hart. City College’s talented group of actors for this production
will be led by James E. Brodhead, who first performed the role of
Whiteside at age 17. Director Katie Laris said Brodhead is living
and breathing the part, bringing to his rich character an entire
“life of experience.”

Laris attributes The Man’s persistent appeal and
enduring success to its characters, who range all the way from
chastely Middle American to wildly eccentric. Laris speaks with
animation of the wide spectrum of oddballs — including a sultry
actress and a Harpo Marx look-alike — who cross the stage, however
briefly, adding new comedic dimensions and heightening the energy
of The Man’s many hectic scenes. One might expect a play
crafted in the 1930s to show signs of becoming dated, yet Laris
asserted that Kaufman and Hart’s show remains “engaging and smart,”
and has been kept young by the sheer variety of faces that have
been called to pay court to Whiteside over the years. She says that
the show continues to attract millions of playgoers because of its
endearing “human connection.”

Indeed, despite the frenetic hilarity lurking around every turn,
the play’s emotional center — the relationship between Whiteside
and his secretary, Maggie Cutler — deepens as it develops. Startled
and genuinely upset at the prospect of losing the long-suffering
Maggie to marriage, Whiteside mounts a cunning and self-centered
resistance before finally acknowledging the sincerity of her
affection for the good-natured Bert Jefferson and seeking to
reverse his meddling. It may at times appear otherwise — especially
during such uproarious scenes as the one in which a character is
shipped off in the case of an ancient Egyptian mummy — but at its
heart the play addresses a serious theme: the struggle of a man
learning to deal with the painful process of letting go.

Still, audiences for The Man Who Came to Dinner can
look forward to an evening of pure Christmas-in-July-style fun.
This, the final production in SBCC’s illustrious 2005-06 season,
will elicit more than a few laughs and leave even the most
resistant among us fighting mightily to suppress a grin. Sporting
everything from cockroaches to choirboys, The Man Who Came to
is classic Broadway comedy at its best, portrayed with
skill by actors and actresses who are clearly enjoying the
rollicking absurdity of what they are doing. After all, whatever
the respective merits of tragedy and light drama may be, as Laris
said, there’s “just nothing like being in a comedy.”

4-1-1 SBCC Theatre Group’s production of
The Man Who Came to Dinner runs July 14-29, at Garvin
Theatre. Call 965-5935.


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