With an amazing amount of energy and the ability to pull each comedic thread out of the narrative, the young actors of the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory’s Acting Summer Theatre Arts School delighted their Friday, Aug. 10th, opening-night audience with their production of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s 1939 Broadway comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner, under the direction of Jonathan McCarter. The show is a hilarious comedy of errors that highlights some of the best young actors in the area, and is one of the most pleasant surprises of the summer theater season.
The play, which is set in a small town in Ohio during the Christmas season of 1939, highlights what happens to a family that unexpectedly provides a home base to a narcissistic radio professional, Sheridan Whiteside, played by Michael Phillips, a rising senior at Longleaf School of the Arts. Whiteside drops names like trees drop leaves in autumn, chases skirts relentlessly, and happily allows (demands, actually) everyone to care for him, even though he’s not as incapacitated as they believe.
Phillips carries the play and is in every scene, often delivering rapid-fire dialogue that even a Broadway actor would find threatening; but his persona is self-confident and his timing is impeccable. He’s an actor to watch.
There are many young actors in this production who are bright lights on NCT’s Conservatory Theatre’s black-box stage. Faith Brunswick, a home-schooled rising senior in her first NCTC production, plays Maggie Cutler, Whiteside’s long-suffering assistant. Not only does she resemble the gloriously beautiful 1940s film star Hedy Lamarr, but she also has the acting chops that one would imagine Lamarr might have had at the same tender age.
Maggie Cutler rides a roller-coaster of emotions through the production, enduring her boss’s obnoxious behavior, falling in love with Bert Jefferson, the local journalist (played by Sean Clayton, who was recently selected to attend the 2018 Governor’s School of North Carolina) and, ultimately, finding that she needs to disengage from Whiteside if she is to succeed in life. Faith Brunswick is perfect for this role and delivers a performance with a slightly sardonic and mature aspect that tells us she is more than ready for other stages in the near future.
Another bright light in the production is Priscilla Palazzo, who plays the eerily spooky Harriet Stanley. Every time Palazzo slips down the stairway to address Whiteside directly, the audience titters, because the tiny, blond, rising eighth grader is oddly intimidating. Her ability to extract a reaction from the audience without doing much other than hovering over the insufferable Whiteside speaks volumes about her ability to act and reach across the floodlights.
The play’s tendency to jump from one frantically comic scene to another demands that the actors are not only able to deliver rapid-fire dialogue, but that they are also able to incorporate the pratfalls and choreographed entrances and exits. Some of the characters are based on the Marx Brothers, legendary comedians whose craft is still admired today.
Abigail Shorter is delightful as Banjo, a character loosely based on Harpo Marx, the wild-haired, frenetic Marx brother, especially as she zips from one side of the stage to the other like a hyperactive five-year-old.
The North Carolina Theatre Conservatory vows to foster the creative talents of the next generation of actors, dancers, and singers in the Triangle area; and this production shines the spotlight on many more than the ones mentioned here. Olivia Crawford, a rising junior and returning member of the NCT acting company, plays June Stanley, the Stanley family’s young daughter and the focus of the adults who want to marry her off. Jake Gaul, a rising sophomore at Longleaf School of the Arts, plays her brother Richard Stanley, and has held lead roles in other shows during his young life.
Mr. Stanley is played with an appropriate amount of ire by Duncan McNeil, a rising senior at Leesville Road High School who is happy to be in his first production. Dr. Bradley, played by Skye Parks, who has performed in films and in other stage performances, delivers one of the most memorable lines of the night: “What a sense of humor you writers have.”
In short, the performance is a delight; the young actors deliver the way that professionals do; and if you like penguins … there are some mighty cute ones who make cameo appearances.
The play runs through Sunday, Aug. 12th, at NCT’s Conservatory Theatre at 3043 Barrow Dr. in Raleigh, NC. Do yourself a favor and see what amazing young actors the North Carolina Theatre‘s Acting Summer Theatre Arts School produces.
The North Carolina Theatre Conservatory presents THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 10, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11, and 2 p.m. Aug. 12 at NCT’s Conservatory Theatre, 3043 Barrow Dr., Raleigh, North Carolina 27616.
TICKETS: $20 ($10 students).
BOX OFFICE: 919-855-0015 or https://www.etix.com/ticket/v/10064. SHOW: https://nctheatre.com/education-student-performances and https://www.facebook.com/events/1825034410896566/.
The Man Who Came to Dinner: Comedy in Three Acts (1939 Broadway comedy): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/the-man-who-came-to-dinner-5781 (Internet Broadway Database) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Came_to_Dinner (Wikipedia).
Moss Hart (playwright, 1904-1961):https://www.britannica.com/biography/Moss-Hart (Encyclopædia Britannica), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/moss-hart-6153 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0366454/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moss_Hart (Wikipedia).
George S. Kaufman (playwright, 1889-1961): http://www.georgeskaufman.com/ (official website), https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-S-Kaufman (Encyclopædia Britannica), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/george-s-kaufman-5827 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0442151/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_S._Kaufman (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: https://www.roundabouttheatre.org/Roundabout/media/Roundabout/PDF/UPSTAGE/Copy-of-Man-Who-Came-to-Dinner,-The_Study-Guide.pdf (Roundabout Theatre Company of New York City).
Jonathan McCarter (director and NCT Conservatory Education, Outreach, & Business Manager & Acting Instructor): https://nctheatre.com/page/about-conservatory (NCT Conservatory bio) and https://www.facebook.com/jonathandmccarter (Facebook page).
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.