There’s a song by Peter Allen that declares “Everything old is new again.”
The proof of this opened Wednesday at the Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw with its production of the 1939 comic classic “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”
Written by two of the best in their era and beyond — George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart — it tells of the enforced stay (via an icy fall and an injured hip) of a famous author/radio personality in the home of a Mesalia, Ohio, factory owner and of the major chaos which ensues. It is December 1939 and Scrooge, aka Sheridan Whiteside, is not feeling the love.
Based on a slightly similar incident in the Hart home, the lineup of characters includes several based on theatrical personalities well known in the ‘30s and ‘40s.
If you can guess who they are, you are as old as I, but in this show, directed sharply and at a required rapid pace by Ben Dicke, it doesn’t make any difference if you can or not.
They are hilarious no matter who they were/are.
In the center of the increasing whirlwind sits (literally) Whiteside, played with wonderfully appropriate stentorian bravado by Robert J. (Bob) Miller. The world, no matter where it is at any given moment, revolves around him and he definitely thinks this is the way it should be.
Commandeering the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Stanley, played with increasing frustration by Chuckie Benson and Lottie Prevenost, he virtually sentences them to the upper floor and continues with his life as usual.
At his side (initially) is his trusted secretary Maggie Cutler (Elaine Cotter), while several in the Stanley household — daughter June (Kayla Eilers), son Richard (Noah Keiserman), butler John (Sea Watkinson) and cook Sarah (Aria Braswell) — are looked upon favorably, as are local newsman Bert Jefferson (Joey Birchler), a playwright-in-waiting who goes rather wildly overboard for Maggie, and Mr. Stanley’s sister, Harriet (Ruby Marie Gibbs), an other-worldly spinster who floats in and out of Whiteside’s frantic reality in a world of her own.a
Not-so-gentle treatment is afforded Miss Preen (Laura Plyler), the unfortunate nurse in charge of the recalcitrant patient (her exit speech is worth the wait and received well-deserved applause) , and Dr. Bradley (Evan Duff), a physician with a literary aspirations and a good deal of patience (pun intended!).
Dashing in and out of the Whiteside bedside are Professor Metz (Keaton Eckhoff), delivering a “buggy” gift; Banjo (Scott Fuss), a wildly wacky comedian; Beverly Carlton (Barrett Riggins), playwright with a flair for music and imitation; and Lorraine Sheldon (Lexi Carter), film femme fatale on the prowl.
From the outset, Whiteside is more than rude to everyone. Receiving a welcoming gift of calves foot jelly from a local matron, he snarls “Made from her own foot, I have no doubt.”
And that’s when he’s feeling charitable.
The insults fly fast and furiously but there is no profanity and each gets the laugh it deserves, primarily thanks to the sharp delivery of the wheelchair-bound central figure, the reactions of his captive targets and the determinaiton with which he plots — and co-conspirators augment his plans.
Miller maneuvers his wheelchair deftly around the comfortable living room set designed by Jacki Anderson, shouting orders and shooting barbs with gleeful abandon. He is the man you love to hate and, when the snow clears, the final blow — to quote Gilbert and Sullivan — fits the crime.
It is two hours-plus and most of that time is filled with laughs. After more than three-quarters of a century, this man is still one of the funniest dinner guests in theater history.
Trust me. This is one you don’t want to miss.
“THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER” plays through Aug. 6 in the theater at 2515 E. Center St. in Warsaw. For show times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheelcenter.org