Review: “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” at Richardson Theatre Centre

guess.jpg
  • Shawn Stalter, Chief Dallas/Ft. Worth Critic

Richardson, TX - Lunatic Theatre Company combined forces with Richardson Theatre Centre to bring “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” to life in an exciting Texas stage debut. The talented cast and crew they assembled delivered a highly-entertaining, dynamic performance exploring the role of racial bias in America and its ability to prematurely extinguish the blossom of young love.

Set in San Francisco during the turbulent years of the mid-1960s which saw the Vietnam war raging abroad and civil rights battles at home, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” is a story which skillfully navigates some deep and turbulent emotional waters. Written by Todd Kreidler and based on the Oscar-winning screenplay by William Rose, it finds the white suburban Drayton family welcoming their mid-20s daughter, Joanna, back from a recent trip. Accompanying her on this journey to “meet the parents” is world-renown African-American doctor, John Prentice, who she met and fell in love with during her travels.  Joanna’s parents, who fancy themselves progressive liberals, quickly realize that they hold deep reservations and biases against the idea of interracial marriage, shaking the foundation of their own identities.

Infused with the right balance of passionate drama and light-hearted comedy, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” digs deep to unearth uncomfortable truths about the state of race relations in America in the volatile mid-1960s. While the concept of interracial couples is not as earth-shattering in 2019, there are still pockets of discontent across the country which continue to sow hate and discord, pleading to return to the “good ole’ days.” Therefore, this story is just as compelling, relevant and important today as it was nearly 60 years ago. It forces each of us to enter an introspective space to check our own attitudes and confront our biases.

In the hands of the talented cast and crew of Lunatic Theatre Company and Richardson Theatre Centre, this play achieved a praiseworthy, dynamic performance. Together, they brought the multi-dimensional characters to life in a nuanced and genuinely powerful way befitting this play’s statewide stage debut.

As “Doctor Prince,” the talented Sean Massey gave the whole production a profoundly emotional and riveting gravitas. We all ached with his character as he tried to walk the emotional tightrope of pleading his love for the Drayton’s daughter while remaining respectful and deeply conscious of the weight of his request. His face wore the mask of a man trying to maintain reason and calm despite wrestling with the reality of being caught between two worlds. Massey perfectly executed his portrayal of a man swimming upstream against societal “norms” to fight for a brighter tomorrow for himself and “Joanna.”

Leigh Wyatt Moore also gave a well-rounded, exceptionally potent performance in her role as “Christina Drayton.” She portrayed a strong woman and a proud mother at odds with her husband and herself over the wisdom of interracial marriage in the 1960s. Moore infused her role with remarkable and riveting authenticity.

As the Drayton’s vibrant young daughter, “Joanna,” Kennedy O’Kelley, exuded optimism and youthful passion in the face of a family struggling to come to terms with the situation. Fathers “Matt Drayton” and “John Prentice Sr.,” Gary Anderson and Calvin Gabriel, respectively, both agreed that their children’s naive stance was out of touch with the harsh realities of racial attitudes present in 1960s-era America. Their passionate performances of fathers desperately seeking to protect their children and come to terms with their own biases evoked a perfect balance of opposing emotions as the audience followed them on the journey to acceptance.

The role of the Drayton’s sassy, yet down-to-earth maid, “Matilda Banks,” was beautifully performed by Patricia E. Hill. Her well-timed moments of comedic relief help release some of the pressure building from the heavy material unfolding on stage. Through her well-rounded performance, she helped the characters craft a deeper understanding of themselves and each other as she, herself, navigated the murky waters to acceptance of the young lovers’ relationship. She found a perfect counterpart in Budd Mahan’s top-notch performance of “Monsignor Ryan.” He was the voice of love and reason acting as the sounding board to help break through the Draytons’ firmly held reservations.

Finally, rounding out this talented cast, Cheryl Lincoln as “Mary Prentice” and Carol M. Rice as “Hilary St. George” augmented this talented ensemble beautifully. Lincoln’s authenticity as the young doctor’s mother was a perfect complement to Moore’s role as “Joanna’s” mother and provided a wonderful counterbalance to the high-emotion portrayal by Gabriel of her husband. Rice was compelling as the busy-body “friend” whose biases were much closer to the surface.

This production’s ability to tell the timeless story of love’s power to break through the rigid social boundaries we often unintentionally erect around ourselves and our communities was exceptional. Each member of this all-star cast truly rose to the occasion and brought visceral authenticity to their respective roles. Don’t miss your chance to see this evocative production.

 

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?,” directed by, Rachael Lindley, runs through June 23, 2019, at Richardson Theatre Centre. Cast members include Patricia E. Hill as “Matilda Binks,” Carol M. Rice as “Hilary St. George,” Leigh Wyatt Moore as “Christina Drayton,” Gary Anderson as “Matt Drayton,” Kennedy O’Kelley as “Joanna Drayton,” Sean Massey in the role of “Dr. John Prentice,” Bud Mahan as “Monsignor Ryan,” Cheryl Lincoln as “Mary Prentice,” and Calvin Gabriel performing the role of “John Prentice Sr.”

Learn more about Lunatic Theatre at http://lunatictheatre.com/ and reserve your seat for an upcoming performance of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” at Richardson Theatre Centre by visiting https://www.richardsontheatrecentre.net/ or calling (972) 699-1130.

Photo credit:  James Jamison