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The Daily Tar Heel

PlayMakers Hosts Holiday Play

Last year "An O. Henry Christmas" was the company's holiday contribution; George Kaufman and Moss Hart's "The Man Who Came to Dinner," this year's show for the holiday season, opened Nov. 21, and its connection to the Christmas season is tangential at best.

Set during the holidays, the play focuses on Sheridan Whiteside (Philip Davidson), a famous critic and lecturer who is also considered to be "the world's rudest man." He injures himself in Mesalia, Ohio, just before Christmas and is forced to live out the holidays with the Stanleys.

Sheridan turns their lives upside down, as his New York wit and attitude clash with their middle-American mentality. Things get even crazier when Sheridan's secretary, Maggie Cutler (Kathryn Hunter Williams), falls in love with one of the townspeople.

PlayMakers chose to produce "The Man Who Came to Dinner" largely based on its wit and its non-yuletide skewering of American celebrity culture.

Hart and Kaufman wrote the play in 1939, and the combination of the pair's talents has maintained its popularity. Kaufman was the one with the acerbic wit and knack for satire, while Hart was more of a natural storyteller, said Michael Sexton, the play's director.

Real-life celebrities were Hart and Kaufman's inspiration for a number of characters, including playwright Noel Coward (Beverly Carlton), and Harpo Marx of the Marx Brothers (Banjo). Sheridan was modeled after a friend of Kaufman and Hart's.

But for the satire to work, many of the cast studied those on whom the characters were based.

Alton Fitzgerald White, who plays Coward's counterpart in the play, did his research -- to prepare his role, he looked through a series of articles and photos to get a sense of how Coward acted.

"I got his confidence and his above-it-all attitude, his kind of super wealthy, super elite kind of attitude," said White, who previously performed in "Ragtime" on Broadway and will shortly join the national tour of "The Lion King."

PlayMakers hopes the attitude of the rich and famous depicted in the play will strike a chord with audiences, although it presents its share of challenges. Sexton said establishing proper comedic timing in such a comedy is difficult to accomplish considering its 30-member cast.

"It's an incredibly complicated logistical set of challenges," he said.

Despite the obstacles, White enjoyed performing a play in December that didn't revolve around Scrooge or Tiny Tim.

"So many theaters do 'A Christmas Carol' over and over again, and this will be a nice, different something," he said.

"The Man Who Came to Dinner" will run through Dec. 16. Shows are at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays. For ticket information, call the PlayMakers box office at 962-7529.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at

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