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'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' at Arena Stage Adds Humor to Time-Tested Family Drama

Eve M. Ferguson | 12/18/2013, noon
"Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner," now playing at the Arena Stage’s Fichlander Stage, revisits the drama that first came to ...

Reflecting on the pivotal role originally played by the late actress Beah Richards, Frye commented, “Of course I saw the original movie years ago and remember the magnificent Beah Richards’ beautifully nuanced performance, but I did not study her work for my performance. I certainly wanted to make the role my own and therefore the interpretation had to be my own. But, we did include one of Miss Richard’s touching lines from the film, ‘This is not a night for happiness…,’ but it is spoken to Mrs. Drayton not her husband.”

In taking a look at the subject matter addressed in this funny, entertaining two and a half hour production, Frye noted that the central issues are still not resolved, although not viewed through the same lens as in 1967.

“Mary (Prentice) does not support the marriage immediately, because as the mother of a black man she fears that her son’s choice of wife will invite the threat of violence against him. This attitude in the character is reflective of most black mothers who worry about their sons in this country. It is an unending anxiety from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin,” Frye added.

Kriedler, who adapted the screenplay for the stage in its premier in Atlanta, and is also the playwright of "Holler If Ya Hear Me," based on the lyrics of Tupac Shakur aimed for Broadway in 2014, spoke to the relevance of reviving this half-century old play about race and class in America.

“First of all, it’s a cultural touchstone,” Kriedler comments in the Dramaturg’s Notebook. “Whatever your feelings about the piece are, whatever community you are from, it literally brought the issue of race into the home, both in the storytelling and thematically.”

“Approaching it today, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about and engage in the attitudes of 1967, but in a way that was for the 21st century,” he continued. “These attitudes and ideas are still very much alive. People have tried to make linguistic adjustments so racism today has become more covert. The systemic racism and the endemic attitudes are cloaked, but they’re still very much alive.”

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” plays at the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater through January 5th. Visit www.arenastage.org for show times and ticket information.