December 9, 2019 Radomir Vojtech Luza

Review of The Group Repertory Theatre’s Production of “The Man Who Came to Dinner” by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman at The Lonny Chapman Theatre in The North Hollywood Arts District through January 12th

If you are interested in a comedy that is a tonic for today’s seemingly drab and humorless world, look no further than The Group Repertory Theatre’s production of 
Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s “The Man Who Came to Dinner” running downstairs on the Main Stage of The Lonny Chapman Theatre in The North Hollywood
Arts District through January 12th.
This is the story of a sharp-tongued New York City radio personality who accidentally slips and falls, injuring his hip outside of the front door of the house of the well-to-do local 
factory owner who he was invited to dine with.  Confined to a wheelchair in the house for a month, he drives his hosts crazy by disrupting the proceedings in an almost cartoonish manner until he receives his just reward.
This play does what a comedy is supposed to do: make the audience laugh.  
In the third and final act, audience members were literally jumping out of their seats trying to contain their joy and glee.
The language is nothing short of compelling, electric and jaw-dropping.
Each syllable loaded with wit and comedy, the writing leading a life of its own.
The words here are so genuinely funny, specific and well-oiled that name references that would seem dated and above the audience’s heads, simply are not.
Every 10 seconds, it seems, society is being measured, civilization given a tongue lashing and humanity an eye-opening bath in the truth.
If the purpose of comedy is to make the audience not only laugh, but also look at itself in the mirror, then this comedy meets those expectations broadly, brilliantly and blatantly.
Hart and Kaufman are both masters of massaging the meaning and direction of a word, phrase or sentence so that it travels in a direction different than what we, the audience, expect.
The two geniuses do it time and again, and do it with such confidence, detail, nuance, feel and grace that we, the audience, are left in stitches, shock and awe.
Written and set in 1939, this play is clearly one of the best written American comedies, if not plays, of all time.
It pushes, pulls and prods until we, the audience, have no choice but to react, recoil or regurgitate some sort of laughter.
Director Bruce Kimmel is best known for his work with Kritzerland, his own company that produces updated albums of classic musicals as well as recordings of new ones like his “A Carol Christmas” 
produced at The Group Repertory Theatre last year and currently nominated for several Broadway World awards.
The writer, director and star of the cult movie hit, “The First Nudie Musical” puts the C back in comedy with such flare, passion and abandon that he actually makes the writing work even harder and 
and stand even taller than it usually would.
The co-creator of the story of the hit film, “The Faculty,” directed by Robert Rodriguez, wags an acerbic tongue and irreverent index finger at the world in general, and people in particular
so much so that he seems the perfect choice to direct this time-tested holiday classic.
The Grammy-nominated producer of theatre music on CD, does not stand in the way of the actors, and allows them the freedom and space to be themselves, sincerely and honestly.
The thespians are encouraged to be as physical as possible in stretching and enriching their characters as much as they can.
The producer of 180 albums assembles an awesomely-gifted cast that comprehends the wisdom, scope and sensitivity of the writers.
Stand outs include: Chris Winfield (Beverly Carlton) who almost steals the show in exploding onto the stage like an unplugged hand grenade and exiting the premises 12 minutes later.
The triple threat (Co-Artistic Director, resident set designer and builder and actor) gives possibly his most memorable and nuanced portrayal of many at the final Group Repertory Theatre run 
in this, his first foray onto the stage in some time.  The film and television actor gives a convincing turn as the rather egotistical and self-centered, but hilarious Carlton.
Kudos to Winfield for the generosity, mental agility and self awareness he displays in super sensurround. 
We, the audience, are the better for it. 
But running away with the show is Jim Beaver (Sheridan Whiteside) whose presence, passion and power are something out of a bygone era.
The Shakespearean actor (Macduff in “Macbeth”) and star of television shows from “Supernatural” (Bobby Singer) and “Deadwood” (Whitney Ellsworth) to
“Breaking Bad” (Lawson) and “Third Rock from the Sun” (French Stewart’s boss) and over 50 feature films, here mesmerizes, mystifies and milks about all he can from his character.
In carrying the play hook, line and comedy sinker, Beaver exhibits a knack for timing and delivery rarely seen among actors of even his rarefied air and ilk.
The lead’s performance seems informed by a wry sense of humor, worldly charm and an ageless spirit regardless of an ever-so-slight cynicism as to the state of the world. 
The actor, who once played Big Daddy in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at The Berkshire Theatre Festival, here makes it crystal clear that his somewhat sarcastic attitude comes from experience,
emotion and existential angst.
After all, why would a successful big city radio personality want to stay in a wheelchair in a house in a small town where he is not wanted unless his life is not quiet what and where it should be?
Beaver deserves credit for breathing fire into the belly of Whiteside in a manner which will not be easily forgotten or duplicated.
This critic hopes to see Beaver on the boards in North Hollywood or Los Angeles again very soon.
Also furthering the message of the play are Winfield’s masterful traditional set design, Douglas Gabrielle’s innovative lighting design, Michael Mullen’s colorful and effective costume design and Steve Shaw’s brilliant 
sound design.
In the end, “The Man Who Came to Dinner” succeeds because of its unapologetic narrative, not despite it.
In a world mired in sadness, suffering and hypocrisy, this play rises above the partisan bellyaching and caterwauling to confront social, political and personal demons equally with a mix of
vinegar and wine, salt and pepper and radish and radiance.  In so doing, this finally-tuned and well-paced vehicle never manages to forget its primary goal: to entertain and amuse.
While commenting on the human condition, the play also functions as an elixir for what ails this generation: a tendency to take itself too seriously and too importantly as if no other existed.
Let us, the audience, also not forget that this is the final production overseen by Winfield and Larry Eisenberg, the highly productive pair of Co-Artistic Directors stepping down after the run of the play.
For it is this dynamic duo that for a decade changed the landscape and shape of theatre from a “community theatre” driven  mindset to a more bold, mainstream and substantive nature, in affect saving the company and 
theatre.
This critic thanks them both for their soulful and heartfelt contributions and wishes them both well on their respective new journeys.
This critic also welcomes new Artistic Director Doug Haverty into the fold, and wishes him a successful and inspired tenure.
By Radomir Vojtech LuzaTheatre, Film and Book CriticAt the Theatre with Radomir Luza

Showtimes:Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm.Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm.Talk backs after Sunday matinees on December 15th and December 29th.There will be two intermissions.Approximate Running Time: Two Hours.Tickets: $25.00. Seniors 65+/Students with ID: $20.00.Groups of 10 or more: $15.00.Information/Reservations: (818) 763-5990.WHERE: The Group Repertory Theatre-The Lonny Chapman Theatre-Main Stage,10900 Burbank Boulevard,North Hollywood, CA 91601 
At the Theatre with Radomir Luza

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