Community Theatre Brings ‘The Man Who Came To Dinner’ Back To The Wagon Wheel

March 3, 2024 at 3:51 p.m.
Todd Lucas (sitting) is Sheridan Whiteside in Wagon Wheel Community Theatre’s production of “The Man Who Came To Dinner,” directed by Kira Lace Hawkins (standing). Show times are 7 p.m. March 15 and 16 and 2 p.m. March 16 and March 17. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union
Todd Lucas (sitting) is Sheridan Whiteside in Wagon Wheel Community Theatre’s production of “The Man Who Came To Dinner,” directed by Kira Lace Hawkins (standing). Show times are 7 p.m. March 15 and 16 and 2 p.m. March 16 and March 17. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union

By DAVID L. SLONE Managing Editor

“The Man Who Came to Dinner” was written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman 85 years ago in 1939.
Wagon Wheel Community Theatre (WWCT) was founded about 10 years ago as Center Street Community Theatre.
The two milestone anniversaries collide this month as WWCT will present “The Man Who Came to Dinner” March 15-17.
The play was made into a pretty popular movie - starring Bette Davis, Billie Burke, Monty Woolley and others - in 1942, according to Wagon Wheel Education Director Kira Lace Hawkins, who is directing WWCT’s production.
“The older generation these days might remember that hit film, and it’s had a lot of success on stage ever since,” she said.
Todd Lucas, who is playing the title role of Sheridan Whiteside, said the show was last produced at the Wagon Wheel in summer 2016.
As for a synopsis of the play, he said, “Sheridan Whiteside is the main character of the play. He is kind of a famous radio host, kind of a man about Hollywood, well-connected, travels the world. Speaker on many different topics and subjects. Somehow, he gets invited to visit this home in the small town of Mesalia, Ohio, and he visits the home of the Stanley family, and while there, it’s winter time, he falls ... injures himself and he’s bed-ridden for a while. Then when he is finally able to move around, he’s still confined to a wheelchair but still has to stay in the home for about two weeks or so.”
During his stay, Whiteside takes over the household from his wheelchair and makes the home the center of his operations. A lot of people come and go to see him.
“It’s a lot about the crazy cast of characters, not only the people in the household but the people who come to visit Sheridan Whiteside,” Lucas said.
Whiteside seems to take delight in antagonizing the man of the house, Mr. Stanley, and his wife, but takes a liking to the Stanley children and the cook and his wife.
“Sheridan Whiteside - very gruff exterior. He comes across as very superior, but he does have a softer side and if he takes a liking to you, he can really treat you well,” Lucas said.
Hawkins said part of the charm of the show is that, “it really becomes a vehicle through which to kind of explore this world of late ’30s Hollywood celebrity culture, which is so different from our celebrity culture these days.” Back then, she said there was a bit of mystery about the celebrities and it would have been so novel for a family to get calls from London, Hollywood and elsewhere. “They even talk to Walt Disney on the phone, the man himself. So it’s really fun to hear all these stars mentioned in this celebrity culture that he’s steeped in.”
Lucas said the play makes a lot of references to people and places of that time period. “So much so that we kind of decided to put together a document for people who come to the show, sort of a primer, if you will, explaining who some of these people are because there’s a lot of names that are just mentioned in passing,” he stated.
Hawkins said it’s so much fun to just imagine what it would have been like in 1939 to watch the show and hear all of the contemporary names of that time.
She said there’s also characters in the show that are fashioned after real celebrities of that era, but who aren’t called by the names of the celebrities. For example, there’s a character named Beverly Carlton who is kind of fashioned after Cole Porter/Noel Coward.
“(It’s) fun for our actors then to kind of dive into the history of those characters and not try to emulate them, but just try to get the flavor of who those comedians were and who those playwrights were and kind of bring that to life on the stage,” Hawkins said.
This show is the first one that Hawkins has directed for WWCT.
“It has been so awesome to get to know this group better,” she said. “I feel like, Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts, we’ve been talking a lot about this within the community theater. Sometimes we’re all working so hard in our own separate lanes, so to be able to bridge the gap between the two spokes of the wheel, as we like to call them, has been a true honor for me. This community is filled with so much talent and this show in particular is so good at highlighting such individual talents, and it’s just been a complete dream to be able to work with this group of people.”
Lucas said this show is probably the best example of the synergy of the Community Theatre with the Wagon Wheel “really utilizing it.” The Community Theatre has performed at the Wagon Wheel for its 10 years of existence, “and now it’s really become more integrated, especially with Kira as part of the Wagon Wheel staff, directing it as opposed to just a Community Theatre member.” In the past, members of the Community Theatre directed the shows with support from the Wagon Wheel.
“Now it’s even more so under the umbrella, and it’s been a good experience,” Lucas said.
Lucas has been a part of the WWCT for about nine of its years. He said there’s people in “The Man Who Came to Dinner” who have been a part of the Community Theatre since the beginning or even before.
For those who might remember, Hawkins said, “It really was John Hand on the board and Jennifer Shepherd who had that vision and passion to bring community theater under the umbrella of Wagon Wheel, so it’s an honor to carry on that legacy and make sure that it has the sustainability to thrive for years to come.”
The cast of “The Man Who Came to Dinner” is large, Lucas said. In the past, the WWCT has put on shows that have had casts of five or six to larger ones with about two dozen actors. “A nice thing about the big show is then a lot of people can get involved and have a part, whether big or little, and just be involved in the theater, being involved in the show. Having that many people, then people in the audience are almost assured that there’s someone in the show they probably know.”
Hawkins said an interesting and vital facet of community theater is seeing one’s neighbors on the stage, shining, creating art that came from the community. “It’s a really exciting thing to be a part of, and I’ll speak to the feeling in the room, too, it’s just such a collaborative feeling. Everybody’s so willing to pitch in, in things that aren’t just their role. They’re ready to help wherever it’s needed and it’s a real community effort all around,” she said.
For every production, the Community Theatre makes an effort to try to find a couple fresh faces to make sure that they’re always inviting new people, she said.
The show schedule is a little different for this production than previous WWCT shows. Instead of doing a Thursday opening night, a matinee has been added to Saturday. Showtimes will be at 7 p.m. Friday, March 15; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, March 16; and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 17. Tickets are $16 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 574-267-8041 or online at wagonwheelcenter.org.
“Be on the lookout for our next show. If this is something where you sit in an audience and go, ‘You know, I think I’d like to do that,’ come out for the next audition, come out when we have our next show because that’s where all these people are from. We’re from the community. We all have regular day jobs, and this is a great creative outlet for adults who do something totally different in their day-to-day work, but they can do something like this and it’s a good place to be,” Lucas said.
Hawkins said the best way to keep up with auditions is following them through social media and subscribing to Community Theatre emails specifically through the Wagon Wheel website.

“The Man Who Came to Dinner” was written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman 85 years ago in 1939.
Wagon Wheel Community Theatre (WWCT) was founded about 10 years ago as Center Street Community Theatre.
The two milestone anniversaries collide this month as WWCT will present “The Man Who Came to Dinner” March 15-17.
The play was made into a pretty popular movie - starring Bette Davis, Billie Burke, Monty Woolley and others - in 1942, according to Wagon Wheel Education Director Kira Lace Hawkins, who is directing WWCT’s production.
“The older generation these days might remember that hit film, and it’s had a lot of success on stage ever since,” she said.
Todd Lucas, who is playing the title role of Sheridan Whiteside, said the show was last produced at the Wagon Wheel in summer 2016.
As for a synopsis of the play, he said, “Sheridan Whiteside is the main character of the play. He is kind of a famous radio host, kind of a man about Hollywood, well-connected, travels the world. Speaker on many different topics and subjects. Somehow, he gets invited to visit this home in the small town of Mesalia, Ohio, and he visits the home of the Stanley family, and while there, it’s winter time, he falls ... injures himself and he’s bed-ridden for a while. Then when he is finally able to move around, he’s still confined to a wheelchair but still has to stay in the home for about two weeks or so.”
During his stay, Whiteside takes over the household from his wheelchair and makes the home the center of his operations. A lot of people come and go to see him.
“It’s a lot about the crazy cast of characters, not only the people in the household but the people who come to visit Sheridan Whiteside,” Lucas said.
Whiteside seems to take delight in antagonizing the man of the house, Mr. Stanley, and his wife, but takes a liking to the Stanley children and the cook and his wife.
“Sheridan Whiteside - very gruff exterior. He comes across as very superior, but he does have a softer side and if he takes a liking to you, he can really treat you well,” Lucas said.
Hawkins said part of the charm of the show is that, “it really becomes a vehicle through which to kind of explore this world of late ’30s Hollywood celebrity culture, which is so different from our celebrity culture these days.” Back then, she said there was a bit of mystery about the celebrities and it would have been so novel for a family to get calls from London, Hollywood and elsewhere. “They even talk to Walt Disney on the phone, the man himself. So it’s really fun to hear all these stars mentioned in this celebrity culture that he’s steeped in.”
Lucas said the play makes a lot of references to people and places of that time period. “So much so that we kind of decided to put together a document for people who come to the show, sort of a primer, if you will, explaining who some of these people are because there’s a lot of names that are just mentioned in passing,” he stated.
Hawkins said it’s so much fun to just imagine what it would have been like in 1939 to watch the show and hear all of the contemporary names of that time.
She said there’s also characters in the show that are fashioned after real celebrities of that era, but who aren’t called by the names of the celebrities. For example, there’s a character named Beverly Carlton who is kind of fashioned after Cole Porter/Noel Coward.
“(It’s) fun for our actors then to kind of dive into the history of those characters and not try to emulate them, but just try to get the flavor of who those comedians were and who those playwrights were and kind of bring that to life on the stage,” Hawkins said.
This show is the first one that Hawkins has directed for WWCT.
“It has been so awesome to get to know this group better,” she said. “I feel like, Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts, we’ve been talking a lot about this within the community theater. Sometimes we’re all working so hard in our own separate lanes, so to be able to bridge the gap between the two spokes of the wheel, as we like to call them, has been a true honor for me. This community is filled with so much talent and this show in particular is so good at highlighting such individual talents, and it’s just been a complete dream to be able to work with this group of people.”
Lucas said this show is probably the best example of the synergy of the Community Theatre with the Wagon Wheel “really utilizing it.” The Community Theatre has performed at the Wagon Wheel for its 10 years of existence, “and now it’s really become more integrated, especially with Kira as part of the Wagon Wheel staff, directing it as opposed to just a Community Theatre member.” In the past, members of the Community Theatre directed the shows with support from the Wagon Wheel.
“Now it’s even more so under the umbrella, and it’s been a good experience,” Lucas said.
Lucas has been a part of the WWCT for about nine of its years. He said there’s people in “The Man Who Came to Dinner” who have been a part of the Community Theatre since the beginning or even before.
For those who might remember, Hawkins said, “It really was John Hand on the board and Jennifer Shepherd who had that vision and passion to bring community theater under the umbrella of Wagon Wheel, so it’s an honor to carry on that legacy and make sure that it has the sustainability to thrive for years to come.”
The cast of “The Man Who Came to Dinner” is large, Lucas said. In the past, the WWCT has put on shows that have had casts of five or six to larger ones with about two dozen actors. “A nice thing about the big show is then a lot of people can get involved and have a part, whether big or little, and just be involved in the theater, being involved in the show. Having that many people, then people in the audience are almost assured that there’s someone in the show they probably know.”
Hawkins said an interesting and vital facet of community theater is seeing one’s neighbors on the stage, shining, creating art that came from the community. “It’s a really exciting thing to be a part of, and I’ll speak to the feeling in the room, too, it’s just such a collaborative feeling. Everybody’s so willing to pitch in, in things that aren’t just their role. They’re ready to help wherever it’s needed and it’s a real community effort all around,” she said.
For every production, the Community Theatre makes an effort to try to find a couple fresh faces to make sure that they’re always inviting new people, she said.
The show schedule is a little different for this production than previous WWCT shows. Instead of doing a Thursday opening night, a matinee has been added to Saturday. Showtimes will be at 7 p.m. Friday, March 15; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, March 16; and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 17. Tickets are $16 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 574-267-8041 or online at wagonwheelcenter.org.
“Be on the lookout for our next show. If this is something where you sit in an audience and go, ‘You know, I think I’d like to do that,’ come out for the next audition, come out when we have our next show because that’s where all these people are from. We’re from the community. We all have regular day jobs, and this is a great creative outlet for adults who do something totally different in their day-to-day work, but they can do something like this and it’s a good place to be,” Lucas said.
Hawkins said the best way to keep up with auditions is following them through social media and subscribing to Community Theatre emails specifically through the Wagon Wheel website.

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