Review | Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner

Guthrie Theater, through May 27

Greta Oglesby and Sally Wingert in GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER. Photo by Dan Norman.

Sit in the corner and try not to belch. It’s repulsive. Behave yourself.

Cynical Critic: Yes, sir.

Go ahead. And don’t shout.

CC: Ahem. There’s only one reason the Guthrie did Todd Kreidler (working with William Rose‘s screenplay)’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: to take advantage of the nostalgic cachet of the now-classic movie. Butts in the seats, that’s all the G cares about.

How can you say that? The great Guthrie Theater would never do anything so underhanded and exploitive. They did Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (playing through May 27) because the issue raised in the play – interracial love – remains relevant. The United States still suffers from endemic racism. Only now it’s covert and hidden. More intractable. The G is doing Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. Penumbra recently did Marriage Band. There is the recent movie Loving. The soon-to-be-released Netflix comedy The Week Of (Adam Sandler and Chris Rock). The hostility faced by interracial lovers who want to marry is real and we as a nation must face this and deal with it. Hence the ongoing interest in these plays and movies. They’re still relevant.

And you, cynical person, need a shave and a shower. I can smell you from here.

CC: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner is utterly predictable. We all know how it’s going to end. There isn’t a scintilla of suspense.

Of course there isn’t! Who cares? 98%… Well, maybe 95% …of the audience has seen the source movie. But it’s clear to even the innocent 5% that Dr. Prentice and Joey are going to marry. Their parental units are going to get onboard the marriage train. There’s no other way the play can end. But the “heat” of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner derives from the talk, the discussion, from the characters confronting their bigotry and their ancient racial attitudes. Audiences must give themselves to this journey, otherwise the play will be lost on them.

CC: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner is an exercise in moral smugness. We’re invited to look down our well-fed 2018 noses at these troglodytes from 1967. We’re better than they are. Our racial attitudes are ever so much more advanced. We would never say those things.

This is a toughie. I guess I would repeat: the key to enjoying Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner is to leave your smugness and cynicism in the car. Be open to what the play is saying. Examine your ongoing prejudices. Let your laughter be of recognition, not self-congratulation.

CC: The acting and the design are first rate. As Matt Drayton, David Manis is—

Now we’ve found something we can agree on. Yes. This is the Guthrie and the production, no surprise, thrills. Manis does beautiful work. He blunders and is exuberantly honest. Sally Wingert as Mom is arch and brittle, perfect. Perfection is also achieved by the two lovers, Maeve Coleen Moynihan and JaBen Early. As the Monsignor, Peter Thomson is wonderful. As Mom #2, Greta Oglesby is soft and passionately focused. I adored Dad #2 (Derrick Lee Weeden). Regina Marie Williams made me howl with laughter.

And the design! Matt Saunders creates a beautiful (and gorgeously lit, by Dawn Chiang) San Fran set with a nifty view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Lydia Tanji has made some scrumptious caftans for Wingert. Director Timothy Bond brilliantly pulls it all together.

Now. Give me twenty pushups and then get out of here.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. Please visit John’s informational website.

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