Engaging ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ is served at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts

A whirlwind of different viewpoints and an incredibly interesting study of American culture and racism, all handled by the actors beautifully.

Riverside Center for the Performing Arts presents Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a romantic comedy-drama based on the 1967 Academy Award-winning film. The original screenplay (written by William Rose) has been adapted by Todd Kriedler to better reflect 21st-century ideologies, but since the subject matter it explores is just as relevant today as it was over 50 years ago, only a few minor changes were needed. Anita Gonzalez directs this gripping production, which caught my attention and held it tightly from beginning to end.

Marc D. Lyons as Dr. John Prentice and Rachel Pulley as Joanna Drayton in ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.’ Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Scenic designer Frank Foster did a fantastic job with a somewhat difficult task: making a play set in the 1960s look modern for its time. The characters are proud, contemporary liberals — the matriarch owns an art gallery and the patriarch is a successful newspaper editor. Their home’s sleek design reflects these traits very well, displaying several bold, colorful abstract paintings that a lot of women at the time would wrinkle their noses at. When this play premiered it was a real bombshell; interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 states, so its content was groundbreaking … some may even say radical.

Kathy Halenda as Christina Drayton, Marc D. Lyons as Dr. John Prentice, Crystal Henry Arful-Addoh as Mary Prentice, Neal Grace-Burks as John Prentice Sr., and Rachel Pulley as Joanna Drayton in ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.’ Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Christina and Matt Drayton (Kathy Halenda and Robert John Biedermann) are going about a usual day when their daughter, Joanna (Rachel Pulley), drops in for an unexpected visit. With her is her new fiancée, Dr. John Prentice (Marc D. Lyons), who happens to be African American. While her stunned parents try to gather their wits, Joanna invites John’s parents to join them for dinner. What follows is an incredibly interesting study of American culture and racism. The Draytons are outspoken supporters of equal rights and have raised their daughter to be anti-racist, but they find themselves conflicted when faced with the reality in their own home. John’s parents are just as shocked, with his father, John Sr. (Neal Grace-Burks), openly asking if he’s on Candid Camera before walking around looking for a video recorder while his mother, Mary (Crystal Henry Arful-Addoh), looks much like a deer in headlights. A lot of both comedic relief and thoughtful insight comes from Monsignor Ryan (Alan Hoffman), while a more narrow-minded viewpoint can be seen in Christina’s employee Hilary St. George (Elizabeth C. Butler). Perhaps the most surprising reaction to this news comes from the family’s beloved maid, Tillie (Nancy M. Crawley), who is also African American. It’s a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions from several different viewpoints, and the actors all handle the material beautifully.

Marc D. Lyons as Dr. John Prentice and Nancy M. Crawley as Matilda ‘Tillie’ Binks Drayton in ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.’ Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Tensions rise only when John announces that he will not marry Joanna without her parents’ express blessing, and due to certain schedule constraints, he happens to need their answer that very evening. Marc D. Lyons does a fantastic job with John’s character; a renowned research doctor, he’s respectful while also standing his ground. While there are some explosive moments, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for the most part is a fantastic example of tactful communication — the characters are all intelligent people, and though they disagree, they’re able to engage in discourse that’s both direct and considerate of everyone involved. Respectful candor and mutual trust are possible, and it’s a skill that I think we’ll agree American society can vastly improve on.

Schedule conflicts had regrettably made me unable to attend this show until well into its run, but I was surprised and impressed to see that the size of the audience was comparable to an opening night, and their excitement was just as palpable. This play is dialogue-driven, and several powerful moments yielded appreciative whoops and clapping throughout the evening. When it came time for the curtain call, the cast received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Riverside Center for the Performing Arts’ Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is an evening well-spent. It doesn’t have much time left onstage, so book your tickets while you can!

Running Time: Approximately hours with one 15-minute intermission.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner plays through September 4, 2022, at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA. For tickets, call (540) 370-4300 or purchase them online.

Adult Dinner & Show – $75 (plus applicable taxes)
Seniors (65+) Dinner & Show – $70 (plus applicable taxes)
Adult Show Only – $60
Seniors (65+) Show Only – $55
Children (3-12) Show Only – $55
There will be a $5.00 online processing fee added per ticket.

The cast and creative credits for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner are online here.

COVID Safety: Staff wears masks when working the floor (meal-service portion). Patrons are not required to be masked in the facility; but if patrons want to wear a mask, they are welcome to.


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