Vastly different glimpses into history are available for all to seevia a pair of classic plays from the 1930s that are being performed on community stages.
“The Man Who Came to Dinner,” a light-hearted comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, made its debut on Broadway in 1939 and focuses on radio wit and lecturer Sheridan Whiteside, who comes to visit a prominent family in small-town Ohio one December morning. As fate has it, he slips on a patch of ice on their stoop and is forced to stay with them well beyond his welcome, all the while meddling in their lives, abusing their staff and hosting a parade of personal guests from all walks of life.
With a cast numbering more than 20, the play allows for a veritable who’s who of local theater to traipse across the stage.
In the demanding lead role, Parkside Players veteran W. Gordon Innes puts his mellifluous voice to good use, tossing off well-aimed barbs with precision and commanding the stage at every turn, even while confined to a wheelchair.
While the first and longest of the play’s three acts moves at a fever pitch, the remainder of the evening never fully re-gains the momentum, though things do pick up considerably with the late appearance of Ian McDonald in the role of Banjo, a character fashioned after Harpo of Marx Brothers fame.
Nice work is also provided by Bridget Bannec, totally believable as Maggie, Whiteside’s loyal secretary, and Nick Radu as Bert Jefferson, a budding journalist who catches Maggie’s eye, much to her self-centered employer’s chagrin.
Among the many supporting players, Rosemary Innes provides the right touch of mystery to the shady Harriet Stanley; Lori Santopetro conveys the suffering of Whiteside’s much-abused nurse with a variety of expressions; Eugene Sullivan is frustration personified as Whiteside’s doctor; and Rich Weyhausen (a Queens Chronicle staffer)clearly relishes his stint as a flamboyant, Noel Coward-like character who sings and does impressions.
Less effective are Joe Pepe and Natalie Jones, both of whom tend to overplay their roles as Whiteside’s hosts, while Susan Young, playing an actress with a tarnished reputation, never quite makes the requisite sparks fly between herself and Maggie.
Director Mark Dunn keeps the large company on its toes throughout the play’s nearly three-hour (with two intermissions) running time, and much of the dialogue, though decades old, still elicits laughter.
The production wisely takes some liberties with the play’s many topical allusions, though it remains replete with references to names long since forgotten. Still, it goes a long way to show how sophisticated, clever writing never goes out of style.
Under the direction of Teresa Zugger, a much different atmosphere pervades the Douglaston Community Theatre production of Clifford Odets’ “Awake and Sing!” a serious look at the Depression’s impact on an impoverished Bronx family.
Bessie Berger, the indomitable matriarch, is brought to life by Marilyn Welsher, a resourceful actress who easily shifts gears to reveal her character’s changeable emotions, making them all credible.
Cody Parham, close on the heels of a previous DCT appearance, offers another sensitive portrayal as Bessie’s naive 20-something son, Ralph. He brings out the young man’s inner turmoil and proves a particularly good listener on stage as he silently reacts to all that’s said around him.
In a twist that must have been particularly shocking during the play’s initial Broadway run in 1935, Ralph’s older sister, Hennie, becomes pregnant by a man who has since disappeared. Lisa Lawrence comes up short in this complex role, playing much of it as a pouting child.
As Uncle Morty, Bessie’s successful businessman brother, Marty Edelstein is artificial, reciting most of his lines as if by rote.
Al Carbuto is serviceable as Bessie’s henpecked husband, Myron, a natural-born follower if ever there was one.
Eric Leeb is powerful as Moe Axelrod, a bitter, wounded veteran who becomes a boarder in the Berger home, where he pursues Hennie. And Dean Schildkraut is touching as an innocent foreigner who gets unwittingly taken advantage of.
A special word is due to Michael Wolf, who plays Jacob, Bessie’s 77-year-old idealistic father with leftist leanings. Forty years ago he took on the same role while a student at Queens College. At the time, this critic, a student reviewer for the college newspaper, wrote,“Wolf makes the audience sympathize with him, evoking gasps when his death is announced.”
Today, though Wolf has still not quite aged into the role, the words still apply.
When: March 2 and 3 at 8 p.m.
Where: Grace Lutheran Church, 103-15 Union Turnpike, Forest Hills
Tickets: $14, $12 for seniors
When: March 2 at 8 p.m. and March 3 at 2 and 8 p.m.
Where: Zion Episcopal Church Parish Hall, 44th Avenue off Douglaston Parkway, Douglaston
Tickets: $15, $13 for seniors