Put a cantankerous celebrity in the middle of Ohio for an accidental recuperation stint, add a wacky parade of eccentric showbiz characters, and the result is a clever and witty screwball comedy, "The Man Who Came to Dinner."
The Brass Rail Players will present the timeless classic today through Sunday at Lindenwood University-Belleville's Auditorium, 2600 W. Main St.
"It's a play that you don't see put on too often," said director Glenn Saltamachia, of Swansea. "It's set in the late 1930s, so people might not recognize some of the names that are dropped. But the sarcasm and wit are so sharp that it will keep the audience laughing."
"The Man Who Came to Dinner" centers around Sheridan Whiteside, a pompous author and radio host from New York City, who visits the Stanleys of Ohio for dinner one December day in 1939. When he slips on the ice, this prickly snob must stay for a long convalescence, terrorizing the household and Mesalia residents with his tart tongue. Meanwhile, a parade of showbiz friends, medical professionals and other visitors turn the Stanley home topsy-turvy.
The cast features 24 performers from Clinton, Madison, Monroe, Randolph and St. Clair counties in Illinois and St. Louis.
"The huge case is a challenge," Saltamachia said, "but we really lucked out in that every character is an accomplished actor or actress. Together, they have great comedic timing."
Richard Hunsaker, of Belleville, plays radio host Sheridan Whiteside. Much of the play, he is in a wheelchair.
"He's a real curmudgeon," Saltamachia said. "Every word that comes out of his mouth is a comedic treasure. He could carry the show with his acerbic wit.
"But the comedy is well distributed. Each character has something to offer us. Each one gets to show some personality and deliver some laughs."
Rob Lippert and DeDe Peterson, both of O'Fallon, play host Earnest Stanley and his high-strung wife Daisy.
"They are a typical Midwest couple, upper middle class, with good values and a couple of kids they don't understand," Saltamachia said. "Mrs. Stanley is starstruck by all the famous visitors from New York and Hollywood, but Mr. Stanley wishes the whole thing would just go away."
Jeff Clinebell, of Waterloo, plays the nimble vaudevillian Banjo.
"The audience will love Banjo," Saltamachia said. "His character is like one of the Marx Brothers. Jimmy Durante played him in the movie version."
Lippert, an architect, designed the set.
"At Lindenwood's auditorium, you can't begin working on the set until a week before the show," Saltamachia said. "He had to built it quicky and creatively and did an excellent job. He built a conceptual set, done with beautiful arches that lead to different rooms and a staircase.
"It's the perfect backdrop for a wonderful parade of New York and Hollywood socialites and perfomers."
The rest of the case includes:
* Kimberly Shepherd, of Granite City, as Whiteside's personal assistant Maggie Cutler; Lauren Keck, of Fairview Heights, as daughter June; and Bryce Beliveau, of Freeburg, as son Richard.
* Darlene Caviness, of Swansea, will portray the eccentric sister Harriet Stanley, hiding a secretive past. Patrick Kreher, of Beckemeyer, is writer wannabe Dr. Bradley; Gabi Maul, of Belleville, is prudish nurse Miss Preen; Brandon McNutt, of Shiloh, is union-organizer Sandy.
* Mike Russell, of Mascoutah, is the star-struck butler John; Terri Isenhart, of St. Louis, is Sarah, his wife and the household cook; Brad Kinzel, of Collinsville, is the town newspaperman Bert Jefferson; and Kathleen Dwyer, of O'Fallon, is temperamental actress Lorraine Sheldon.
* Bruce Vick, of Belleville, is British entertainer Beverley Carlton; Darrell Duensing, of Prairie du Rocher, is the strange insect-loving Professor Metz; Ann Tschoe, of Belleville, and Marilyn Kinsella, of Fairview Heights, are starstruck neighbors Miss Dexter and Mrs. McCutcheon.
* Chris Brammer, of O'Fallon, is Mr. Baker, a prison guard, and an expressman; Kara Grossmann, of Swansea, and Melissa Katich, of Edwardsville, are the radio technicians; Tony Saltamachia and Jeff Campbell play both convicts and detectives.
What can the audience take home from this play?
"I hope they are thoroughly entertained -- and I think they will be," Saltamachia said. "It's a little longer play with three acts and two intermissions, but let's just say the comedy is worth getting a sore rear end for."
What: "The Man Who Came to Dinner," a comedy
When: 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Lindenwood University-Belleville's Auditorium, 2600 West Main St.
For the hearing impaired: Interpreters from Southwestern Illinois College will sign during the Saturday performance.
Tickets: $15 for adults; $12 for high school and college students, seniors age 60 and older and military with IDs; and $6 for youths in elementary school.
Reservations: Call 618-767-6016 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The box office opens an hour before showtime.