The eight-play collaboration between George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart provided American theater, both professional and not, with certain crowd-pleasing comedies for almost 15 years. Today, only You Can't Take It with You receives regular production, but the pair's 1939 The Man Who Came to Dinner was, for 25 years, a staple of theaters big and little. In the beginning, its topicality (its titular protagonist modeled on an immensely popular critic and essayist, Alexander Woollcott, now mercifully forgotten, with appearances by Noel Coward and Harpo Marx knock-offs) provided both the sophisticated and the rubes an affectionate insider's look at some of the theater's most celebrated denizens. Later on, the play's wicked one-liners and uninhibited raillery provided the same sort of satisfaction that Neil Simon's plays now supply.
The Kirkwood Theatre Guild's revival of The Man Who Came to Dinner, which closed last weekend, was sprightly and amusing, with competent nonprofessionals in all parts and occasionally inspired performances, like Jerry Novack's Jimmy Durante-like Banjo and Tom Yager's foolish Dr. Bradley. Jason Weissenburger's impressive set could have stood a good deal more decoration, but Russell J. Bettlach's costumes handsomely evoked pre-World War II Midwestern middle-class life. A sold-out Kirkwood Community Theatre audience enjoyed the show hugely, and so did I.