PLAYBILL PICKS: The Stage's Ten Greatest Christmas Scenes

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25 Dec 2013

Nathan Lane in the 2000 Broadway revival of The Man Who Came to Dinner.

The Man Who Came to Dinner
The man who came to dinner in Kaufman and Hart's 1939 comedy is Sheridan Whiteside, a figure based on acerbic columnist and radio personality Alexander Woollcott. And the place he came to was the Stanley family home in Mesalia, OH, where the great man had been invited to dine during a visit to the town. But he slips on a patch of ice outside the house, and is laid up there for the weeks preceding the Christmas holiday. The imperious and obnoxious Whiteside takes over the household — and Christmas along with it — receiving visitors who include characters modeled on Noel Coward, Tallulah Bankhead and Harpo Marx. Playwright Douglas Carter Beane, a great fan of Kaufman, says it's impossible not to love the irony of the play's homey midwestern Christmas setting. "All that urbane, senseless and amusing treachery in front of the American yuletide hearth?" he said. "To show the facade we all put on in our lives to be successful, Sheridan Whiteside and his snide personae have to stop and let us see him do his syrupy radio program complete with boys choir singing 'Silent Night.' Years later George S. Kaufman got in trouble on television when they asked him why he was looking forward to the holidays being over. He responded that for another year he wouldn't have to hear 'Silent Night.' Religious groups were furious, the Jewish man had made an anti-Christian statement! It was a war on Christmas!! Thank God, nothing silly like that would happen now. But if the joy of Man Who Came To Dinner has any tiny message, it's that every perfect family has a little something imperfect and fascinating underneath."


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