Places: The Man Who Came to Dinner

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1939

First produced: 1939, at the Music Box Theatre, New York City

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy

Time of work: Christmas season, late 1930’s

Places DiscussedStanley home

Stanley Man Who Came to Dinner, Thehome. Moderately affluent home of the Stanley family in a small, unnamed Ohio town. Representing a kind of normalcy or upper-middle-class standard, the house is furnished tastefully. The play is set during the 1930’s, when the living room was the center of the typical American home; callers were greeted and entertained there, and families relaxed together there. The Man Who Came to Dinner is about an invasion and transformation of a typical American living room. Soon after the larger-than-life Sheridan Whiteside is confined to the Stanleys’ house because of his accident, he takes over the room to broadcast his weekly radio show and conduct his business as if he were living in New York. The generous proportions of the living room and its gracious furnishings and decorations soon become a shambles, overrun by exotic and famous visitors and strange gifts–such as penguins and a mummy case.

George S. Kaufman’s play exaggerates the bizarre and exotic and juxtaposes them against the middle-class environment in which they are presented. This juxtaposition creates the play’s comedy, as Whiteside fills the Stanley’s living room to overflowing, and the identities of the Stanleys themselves are absorbed as their possessions are relegated to other places in their home, replaced by an avalanche of objects and artifacts pouring in from Whiteside’s friends and admirers.

BibliographyGoldstein, Malcolm. George S. Kaufman: His Life, His Theater. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979. An excellent critical biography of Kaufman with insightful discussions of his plays.Goldstein, Malcolm. The Political Stage: American Drama and Theater of the Great Depression. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974. An important study of the theater in America in the Kaufman-Hart era of collaboration. Helpful for understanding the political, social, and artistic context of their work.Mason, Jeffrey D. Wisecracks: The Farces of George S. Kaufman. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1988. Most helpful monograph on the comedies of Kaufman as farce, including those written with Hart. Apt discussion of Whiteside as “clown” and “master of the revels.”Pollack, Rhoda-Gale. George S. Kaufman. Boston: Twayne, 1988. A critical biography with a chronology and select bibliography. Gives helpful background information on allusions to Woollcott and others in The Man Who Came to Dinner.Teichmann, Howard. Smart Aleck: The Wit, World, and Life of Alexander Woollcott. New York: William Morrow, 1976. Intimate biography of the real person behind Sheridan Whiteside, with a significant chapter on The Man Who Came to Dinner.
Categories: Places