It’s difficult to not compare Todd Kreidler’s stage version of GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER to the 1967 film by Stanley Kramer with Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. It was, in fact, based on the screenplay by William Rose. But it doesn’t take long to forget the original and get caught up in this play. Like the film, the setting is the 1960’s, but the feel is surprisingly contemporary. It’s very easy to see this kind of drama play out, even today.
The color of love
Joanna Drayton (Bryce Gangel), daughter of successful, upper-middle class parents, falls in love with the very successful, African American, Dr. John Prentice (Michael Aaron Pogue). Having been raised by enlightened, liberal-minded Matt (Tim Hopper) and Christina (Mary Beth Fisher) Drayton, she anticipates no real issues; surely they would be happy that she has found the man of her dreams, so what if he is colored.
But she soon discovers that for her parents, professing an appreciation for diversity and staring it in the face are two different things. Even the Drayton’s long time black maid, Tillie (Sydney Charles) is suspicious of the handsome, well-heeled black man who seems to have won the heart of the young woman she helped to raise.
The power of this story is that is not difficult to see each character’s point of view. With the help of Monsignor Ryan (Dan Waller), Catholic priest and family friend of the Draytons, we learn that Matt and Christina, along with their intrinsic prejudices, are also concerned with the reality of what life would be like for the young couple in a country where, in some states, their marriage would actually be illegal.
This is all underscored when John’s parents, John Sr. (Dexter Zollicoffer) and Mary (Jacqueline Williams) make a surprise visit, invited to dinner by a well-meaning Joanna. John Sr.’s response comes across as almost violently opposed and more racist that the Drayton’s, but ultimately, he is more hurt at not being consulted first and he concern for what an interracial marriage could do to his son’s career.
Court Theatre brings the play to life
Interacting with the marvelous and interestingly symbolic stage setting by Scott Davis where the entire apartment, from carpeting on the floor to every piece of furniture and even the cactus house plants are white with black accents, the actors draw in the audience so effectively that you forget that you’re watching a play. Lighting (Paul Toben and Andre Pluess) and sound (Christopher M. LaPort) featuring 1960’s style music completes the atmosphere. All in all and evening of great, thought provoking and often humorous theatre.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago
Cast of GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER
Matilda “Tillie” Banks Sydney Charles
Christina Drayton Mary Beth Fisher
Joanna Drayton Bryce Gangel
Matt Drayton Tim Hopper
Dr. John Prentice Michael Aaron Pogue
Hilary St. George Rachel Sledd
Monsignor Ryan Dan Waller
Mary Prentice Jacqueline Williams
John Prentice, Sr. Dexter Zollicoffer
Thru April 15, 2018
Wednesday and Thursday - 7:30 p.m.
Fridays - 8:00 p.m.
Saturdays - 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL
Theater box office or The Court Theatre website.
Steve Bellinger was born and raised on the West Side of Chicago by a single mom who worked nights for a printing company. She would bring home books and magazines to encourage her kids to read. This is how he discovered Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and the other masters of classic science fiction. It didn’t take long for him to get the itch to write. Over the years he’s written everything from newspaper articles, comic strips and radio drama to short stories and fan fiction. He is the author of the science fiction time travel novel The Chronocar. His second novel, Edge of Perception, is due to be released in 2018.
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