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Broadcast of a live performance of the Roundabout Theater Company's 2000 New York revival of the classic Kaufman-Hart comedy, about a famous (and famously acid-tongued) theater critic who is forced to stay in a Midwestern couple's home and the havoc that ensues.Written by
This production restored some lines that had been censored or omitted from the 1941 film, among them Sheridan Whiteside's opening line "I may vomit". It also restored the line "you have the touch of a sex-starved cobra", which had been changed in the old film to "you have the touch of a love-starved cobra". See more »
The 1942 film THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER was possibly the best comedy film that Bette Davis ever appeared in, but while she got starring position in the film's credits, the real star (who went to town as a result) was the great Monty Woolley, recreating his magnificent acid tongued curmudgeon Sheridan Whiteside. It was one of the rare occasions when a stage performance of importance was saved on film.
Fifty eight years later (forgetting one disastrous television version with Orson Welles as Whiteside in 1972) PBS showed this production of the stage revival of the play with Nathan Lane in the Whiteside role. Lane played the role perfectly, basing it (physically) closer to the original figure Whiteside is based on - writer, critic, actor, radio personality, and Algonquin Round Table Wit Alexander Woolcott. His facial appearance included wearing the round eye frame glasses that Woolcott wore all the time. Lane did not have the crusty, elderly asperity of the great Woolley, but he did have a malevolent elfin charm reminiscent of Woolcott (a man who was all too easy to dislike - Woolcott was also the model for Waldo Lydecker in LAURA, which just goes to show his popularity).
One of the problems with comedy (or drama generally speaking) is the fact that the works can be dated in their references. When, in one of his plays, Shakespeare refers to "the Great Sophy" it is to some long ago forgotten English traveler and diplomat named Shirley who went to Persia. Most of us see the foot note of this 16th Century reference and try to concentrate on the rest of the play that still is strong and relevant to us. But with THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER the great problem is the barrage of trivia that comes out of the play. Woolcott's two Algonquin friends (Kaufman and Moss Hart) added small bits of biography to his stage version, which everyone who knew Woolcott would recognize. The theater critic knew everyone of importance in the theater. So he has a scene with a clone of Noel Coward named Beverley Carlton (to add to perfecting the imitation of Coward, Kaufman and Hart asked Cole Porter, a close friend of Monty Woolley, to write a song for "Carlton" to sing to Whiteside, that was in Coward's distinct delicate style). The close friend of Whiteside who shows up as a comic "deus ex ma china" in the play is "Banjo." This was based on Woolcott's close Algonquin friend Harpo Marx.
But most of the references are quite arcane. Who is Elizabeth Sedley? Well, it is a reference to a celebrated murder case defendant, whose career would have intrigued Woolcott, the great amateur criminologist. What are the references to Beebe and Byrd? This version got around the problems using mock 1930s newspaper headlines chronicling William Beebe the oceanographer and Admiral Richard Byrd, the Polar explorer. This sounds cumbersome, but it was far more effective and useful to the viewers than the idiocy of the 1972 Welles' version where the script was "up-dated" meaninglessly.
The program was an excellent version of the classic comedy, and well worth comparing with the Woolley film. I feel that it deserves a "10".
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