The Outrageous Optimist: Falcon Theatre’s “Guess Whoâ€™s Coming to Dinner?”
By Alan Jozwiak
An outrageous optimist. It is what several people call Joanna Drayton (Zoe Rose Davidson), a newly engaged woman planning her life with the prominent African-American doctor Dr. John Prentice (Ryan-Chavez Richmond), known the world over for his work in tropical diseases.
This setup forms the basis for the Todd Kreidler adaptation of the 1967 film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?,” currently being staged by Falcon Theatre.
While such an arrangement would not turn heads today, the very thought of her choosing anyone outside of one’s race in the late 1960s was taboo. The drama comes as the parents of the bride and the groom grapple with unexpected feeling and reactions to the impending marriage.
Act I shows the reaction of the bride’s parents Christina (Cathy Roesener) and Matt Drayton (Jim Hopkins) and then Act II shows the reaction of the groom’s parents Mary (Khrys Styles) and John Prentice, Sr. (Darryl Hilton).
Falcon’s production of this play is smart, tight, and surprisingly funny. Director Piper Davis has assembled a cast who knows how to get the most from the script. They deftly alternate between humor and pathos as each set of parents grapples with their own hesitations and concerns over the upcoming marriage.
Oftentimes directors do not get their fair share of praise for a play’s success. In this case, I credit Davis for assembling a strong cast who are gutsy enough to mine the humor in a delicate and serious situation. The end result is a play that displays the humanity of its characters, warts and all, for its audience to see.
Overall, the acting is top-notch. Special praise needs to go to Jim Hopkins as the befuddled father of the bride Matt Drayton. Hopkins delivers a nuanced and compelling portrayal. He makes you feel along with him as his character grappled with the decision on whether to give his blessing to the interracial union. It is an honest portrayal that kept me interested in his character.
Also, strong is the Draytonâ€™s maid Matilda Binks (Elizabeth-Leigh Taylor). She literally would steal the show with her one-liners commenting on the tension in the Drayton household. Even though she was a minor character, she has a major impact with her commentary concerning Dr. Prentice.
Praise also has to be given to Scenic & Lighting Designer Ted J. Weil for assembling an amazing set. Weil created a period living room where the action takes place. I wanted to move into that living room because it embraced the emerging counter-culture movement of the 1960s, but has enough present-day touches to resonate with audience members of today.
In short, â€œGuess Whoâ€™s Coming to Dinnerâ€ is a stand-out show which bodes good things for coming season for Falcon Theatre. Girl power will reign in their directing department, as all of the plays this year will be directed by women. If the rest of the directors are able to produce the same caliber of work, it will be a killer season for Falcon Theatre.
â€œGuess Whoâ€™s Coming to Dinner?â€ runs from September 24 to October 9, 2021. For tickets and information on the show, visit the Falcon Theatre website https://falcontheater.net
Alan Jozwiak is a local playwright who teaches in the English department at University of Cincinnati.