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The Man Who Came To Dinner

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THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Steppenwolf's revival of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's comic chestnut feels curiously old-fashioned--and not because it's a 1939 play. This is the kind of show that dominated local theater some 30 years ago--a summer-stock staple efficiently performed by second-tier television and movie stars--before the off-Loop movement took off, thanks to exciting, adventurous young troupes like Organic, Wisdom Bridge, Remains, Steppenwolf...

Oh, well. TV director James Burrows's staging, boasting Michael Yeargan's elaborately detailed set and Virgil Johnson's sumptuous period costumes, offers a boisterous, sitcom-brisk version of the familiar story, about a curmudgeonly commentator (modeled on New York theater critic Alexander Woollcott) who disrupts a staid Ohio household with his egomaniacal arrogance and meddling and an endless procession of eccentric visitors. In the title role, Steppenwolf's John Mahoney--on leave from the TV series Frasier, and needlessly burdened with an unconvincing beard and fat padding here--is impishly charming but fails to convey the character's elegance and imperious power. Fortunately there are delicious supporting performances from Ross Lehman as a fey Noel Coward-type songwriter, saucy Shannon Cochran as a sexually predatory actress, Natalie West as a Charles Addams-esque madwoman, and Thomas Joseph Carroll as a clueless doctor. Harriet Harris is especially fine as the critic's secretary, giving a sly, Rosalind Russell-style portrayal of this diffident spinster, transformed by love for a small-town newspaperman (the engaging Rick Snyder). This cash cow has gotten a decent milking.

--Albert Williams

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