George Kaufman and Moss Hart dedicated The Man Who Came to Dinner to their friend, the renowned drama critic and radio personality Alexander Woollcott, after whom they modeled the character of Sheridan Whiteside. He is a delightfully outrageous character, a comic parody of Woollcott’s traits, especially his notorious gormandizing, cruel wit, and graceless behavior as a houseguest. With the exception of Maggie Cutler, Whiteside dominates everyone around him, using acerbic wit, saccharine cajolery, or threats as the situation seems to call for it. Since he is a massive egotist, he is so caught up in his own conceit as to be completely blind to the harm he can and does do.
The plot of the play is a well-worn one, that of the unwanted intruder who disrupts the normal life and peaceful equanimity of a household. The premise presents a tense situation fraught with comic possibilities that can be mined as long as the intruder remains the play’s central figure and driver of the plot. Whiteside is the master of comic bluster and an outrageous manipulator who has no qualms about riding roughshod over anyone who stands in his way.
It is hard to sympathize with Whiteside’s victims, for the comedy is nonsensical farce, and most of his targets deserve at least some of the comic derision to which they are subjected. Mr. Stanley, for example, is so staid and proper that he is easily intimidated by legal threats. Daisy Stanley, his wife, is one of those society matrons who patronize the arts to bolster their own esteem and be able to crow over their friends....
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