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Review: 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' lacks freshness

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” at the Huntington Theater plays like a rerun of a 1960s sitcom.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at Huntington. Credit: Paul Marotta See Malcolm-Jamal Warner at "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at Huntington."
Credit: Paul Marotta

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” plays like a rerun of a 1960s sitcom. You’ll laugh a lot, maybe spend a few minutes thinking about how formulaic everything was, and tell your friends little, if anything, about the experience.

Aside from a nod to President Obama and a brief dialogue about boxing legend Joe Louis, there’s nothing fresh about Todd Kreidler’s stage adaptation of the beloved 1967 film. The dialogue is naively cliche and the jokes, though funny, sometimes feel somewhat manipulative.

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Dane Laffrey’s set elicits approving oohs from the audience the first time it revolves to feature the terrace, but from the new angle sight lines change and not everyone can see the facial gestures generating the laughter. There’s also intermittent sound issues resulting in indecipherable dialogue.

Like any socially relevant comedy of its time, the rich white family employs a sassy African-American domestic who gets all the best lines. Lynda Gravatt dispenses Tillie’s witty observations with impeccable comic timing. Whether shaking her head, rolling her eyes or raising her arms in the air, Gravatt smartly gives the audience a look at these people from Tillie’s seasoned perspective.

Malcolm-Jamal Warner (of “The Cosby Show” fame) delivers a solid turn as the impossibly perfect Dr. John Prentice, almost making you forget he was once Theo Huxtable. Another 1980s sitcom fixture, Julia Duffy (“Newhart”), is stellar as Christina Drayton, often eliciting uproarious laughter with little more than a facial expression.

Local favorite Will Lyman is especially good as the liberal patriarch Matt Drayton, while Patrick Shea’s booze-swilling Monsignor Ryan adds great levity to the production.

At times, Meredith Forlenza feels like she’s trying too hard as Joey Drayton, while Lonnie Farmer and Adriane Lenox, sadly, have little to work with as the elder Prentices.

 
 
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