By Manning Harris

It takes a certain amount of chutzpa to take a flawed but iconic film like the 1967 “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and proceed to translate it to the stage, but that’s what Director Kenny Leon and his True Colors Theatre Company have done in the current production running at the Rialto Theatre through July 29.

In my review of Mr. Leon’s 2010 version of “Our Town” I wrote that “he (Mr. Leon) knows that racial issues are the most divisive force in America and is determined, most admirably, to use theatre as a healing, cohesive force.”  Thankfully, he’s lost none of his zeal, and many of Atlanta’s best actors, including those in this play, are eager to work with him.

In Todd Kreidler’s script, based on William Rose’s screenplay, we have two old-line well-to-do  San Francisco liberals Matt and Christina Drayton (Tom Key and Tess Malis Kincaid) who have brought up their 23-year-old daughter Joanna (also called Joey, played by Bethany Anne Lind) to be completely unprejudiced and a free thinker.  Nevertheless, Matt and Christina (played originally by screen legends Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn) are flummoxed when Joanna brings the dashing, accomplished African-American Dr. John Prentice (Tory Kittles), with whom she’s fallen in love, home to meet her parents. This role was played on screen by Sidney Poitier.

The scene is set for some highly charged, wonderfully played scenes.  Joanna also decides to surprise John by inviting his parents, who know nothing of the couple’s plans, to dinner.  They are played by Afemo Omilami and Phylicia Rashad (yes, that’s right, though it’s a relatively small role).  Andrea Frye, in a fine performance, plays the Draytons’ African-American maid, who is initially disapproving and suspicious of Dr. Prentice.

Family friends Hilary St. George (Elizabeth Wells Berkes) and Monsignor Ryan (David De Vries) complete a lovely, talented cast.

Speaking of fine performances, there’s no shortage of them in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”:  the luminous Tess Malis Kincaid, Bethany Anne Lind, Tom Key, and Tory Kittles are perhaps first among equals.

Do they make you forget the film actors?  Of course not, but comparisons here are pointless; and film is a different medium.

What’s fascinating (and a bit sad) is how relevant and playable “Guess Who’s Coming” still is.  Mr. Leon, bless him, knows that and has given us quite a gift in this stage presentation.  Yes, Dr. Prentice is almost too accomplished and wonderful to be human, but we’re dealing with larger issues here, such as hypocrisy and “the human heart in conflict with itself,” which Faulkner said was the only thing worth writing about.

I must point out that the Rialto is quite large for live theatre (you recall my love-hate affair with the Fox); this isn’t the Fox, but I’d get the best seats possible (and don’t delay).  Kat Conley’s set, by the way, is colorful and perfect.  This play may become the theatrical event of the summer in Atlanta.

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Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

5 replies on “Theatre Review: ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ at True Colors”

  1. Fanstatic play. I consider myself a great critic of plays. With this play, I could feel the emotions of the players along with placing myself within the house. I was able to visiualize each room as well as walk with the characters to the extended phone, upstairs, the patio and of course, the dinning area. Believe it or not, I lost myself within the scenes. The actors and actresses were quite realistic, each with a sense of humor (especially the minister). I am from that era; so understanding the emotions of each one; gave me insight of their role playing. Great Play, keep it up!!!

  2. I saw the play last night. I thought it was a superb production. I found the interation between the actors had great flow and a realistice feel. I found a major difference betweeen the play and the moovie is that in the movie you only see what the camera wants you to see. In the play you were able to see other things beside the two principle actors wich added a palable and many times laughable nuance to the production.

  3. Simply superb! Magnificent direction and production. The casting FLAWLESS! However, saddened that these issues, decades later, are stilltoo relevant. Needs to be bought into every middle-high school with subsequent discussions/sessions delving into the issues eloquently expressed through theater and humor.

    As I sat thoroughly enjoying every moment of this piece, I was forced to, unfortunately acknowledge the following fact:

    Had this same play, however, had been written, produced and performed by an Independent artist in the last century, without a doubt, Hollywood would have stolen it, revamped it and the Independent artist would not have received one dime of recognition/compensation nor EVER have seen a jury; for in the last 20 years 96% of all federal copyright lawsuits NEVER WENT TO TRIAL. Independent artists are systemically being denied their 7th Amendment right to an unbiased jury trial of their peers.

    Mr. Leon, you know the importance of preserving the creativity of the Independent Artists and how important it is to preserve the rights to our intellectual property! We must stop Hollywood from being allowed to “allegedly” blatantly Steal Independent Artists’ works…In the Name of the Law (Summary Judgment…..Here’s how it’s “allegedly” done

  4. I thought the casting was excellent. And each cast member had a special flavor which was very similar to the original cast members. It was a great re-make and I kept thinking how unfortunate that times really have not changed that much regarding stereotypes of black people.

  5. I saw the play on the 28th and it was AWESOME, what a privilege it was indeed, I laughed so hard. The actors on stage brought the story to life so well, that you as the audience member felt as if you were in the living room watching it all unfold. This was partly due to the staging, Ms. Kat Conley designed the set in a way that the outside terrace and front row were no more that two to five inches apart in distance. The other key factor was the undeniable chemistry that the nine of them shared on stage. This then controversial story of interracial marriage is now a story of love, understanding and coming to terms of truth with one’s own self due to this phenomenal playwright Todd Kreidler, artistic director Kenny Leon and Cast. All around wonderful production.

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