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'The Man Who Came to Dinner'

Chantilly High stages comedy April 20-21, 27-28.

An unexpected houseguest causes havoc and hilarity in Chantilly High's production of "The Man Who Came to Dinner."

It's the school's Cappie show, and the curtain rises Friday-Saturday, April 20-21, and April 27-28, at 7 p.m. each night. Tickets are $7 at the door or at www.chantillyhs.com.

"It's a classic, American play with funny characters, a good plot, a cool set and really talented casts who are having fun with it," said Theater Director Ed Monk. "And all that makes it fun for the audience."

THE SHOW is double cast, and playing the lead roles in the Cappies performance will be Jake Ashey as Sheridan Whiteside, Courtney Siegert as Maggie Cutler, Kendra McCullogh as June, and Andrew Duggan as Richard. Mike Tea plays Bert Jefferson in both casts.

Senior Meghan Griffith, who plays Whiteside's longtime secretary, Maggie, explained the plot. Whiteside is a popular, radio, talk-show host in Mesalia, Ohio in the 1930s, and he knows lots of people.

"One night, he's having dinner at the Stanleys' house, falls on a piece of ice outside as he's leaving and breaks his hip," said Griffith. "He's confined to a wheelchair and has to stay a few weeks."

However, she said, "He has all kinds of guests and wears out his welcome. He's very high-maintenance and demands the library to himself and full access to the telephone. When Maggie falls in love with a newspaperman who comes to interview him, it creates problems for Whiteside because she says she's going to leave and not work for him anymore. And he schemes to break them up so he won't lose her."

Griffith describes Maggie as tolerant and obedient, businesslike, but also sarcastic, because Whiteside is so snide. But, she said, "We can be mean to each other and know we still respect and are fond of each other. It's the first time she's fallen in love, so she didn't expect it."

GRIFFITH LIKES her character because "she's smart and doesn't take any guff." The hard part, she said, is that "there's a bunch of crazy things going on around her and I have to act sane." But she's pleased that Maggie knows how to handle people and think fast. And she says the audience will love the show because "almost everything is unexpected."

Eddie Monk, 17, portrays Whiteside, who studies, lectures about famous murders and does special, holiday broadcasts. "He's very impatient and has to have things done his way, or he gets angry," said Monk. "He can be manipulative if he doesn't get his way."

Whiteside is also extremely famous, with tons of celebrity friends — actresses, explorers, etc. — from all over the world. "He knows everyone," said Monk. "I love it. It's definitely a challenging role, playing a bitter old man. It's fun, though, insulting people about every detail."

He said the toughest thing is getting the voice just right: "Whiteside has a deep, radio-broadcaster's voice that everyone would want to hear, but my voice is higher." But he's enjoying playing the lead. "I love being on stage," said Monk. "And in this role, I can know what's going on and manipulate things [to my advantage]."

He says the audience will be pleased because "everyone's going to get the idea and we'll provide a list of the famous characters from the 1930s who are mentioned or are in the play. And it's great to see how just one, small change — Whiteside's staying in someone's house — can mess up everything."

Junior Alice Besterman plays June Stanley, 20, who lives in the house with her parents and brother Richard. "June is a sweet, strong girl who's in love with a labor organizer whom her father dislikes," said Besterman. "My father owns the factory the workers are rallying in, and we're extremely wealthy."

And although her role is small, she says she's still dynamic in it. "We both have scenes through the play and usually appear together," said sophomore Michael Poandl, who plays Richard. "I'm much the same as June. I really want to become a photographer and Mr. Whiteside encourages me to follow my dreams. So June and I eventually leave home; I run away on a freighter and she goes off to get married."

Poandl likes playing Richard. "The auditions for this play were very competitive," he said. "I'm one of only four sophomores who got parts, so I'm very happy to be in it."

"Since we don't have a lot of time on stage, we have to make our parts memorable," said Besterman. "We have to find little idiosyncracies," added Poandl.

AS FOR THE SHOW, Besterman said lots of eccentric characters pop in and out. And, she said, "It's fast-paced and there's a lot of madness." Poandl said one of the things he likes about "The Man Who Came to Dinner" is that "it really portrays the Golden Age of Hollywood in the '30s, and the audience will like all the glamour of the cast."

Jennifer Isakowitz, 17, plays Lorraine Sheldon, an actress friend of Whiteside's. "She's a self-centered woman who doesn't have many friends, but feels very popular," said Isakowitz. "Sheridan calls me to the house to help him with his scheme to break up Maggie and the reporter. I try to seduce the reporter away from Maggie."

She, too, loves her role. "It's mean and nasty, and it's enjoyable to play that kind of character, in contrast with other characters I've played," she explained. The hardest part, she said, is "going from being obviously mean to downright hurtful."

But Isakowitz likes the fact that her character has a breakdown and "I get to experiment with how to portray that. Lorraine is a melodramatic actress, so all her emotions are over-the-top and Whiteside recognizes that." She said the play has such a large cast, such a variety of characters and so many plot twists that it will "keep the audience on its toes."

Junior Mike Tea plays newspaper reporter Bert Jefferson who works for the Mesalia Journal. "It's a small town, so he's really excited to have someone as famous as Whiteside to interview," said Tea. "Bert's an all-around, nice guy, joking and easy to like."

Jefferson is professional about his job and is assertive and persistent in getting Whiteside to agree to the interview. Said Tea: "I'm used to playing the bad guy or jerk, so this is a change of pace."

Toughest for him is playing an older character in his late 20s, early 30s, because, on stage, he's used to being a young character. But he loves "being the guy who gets the girl and lives happily ever after."

Tea also said the audience will love the play's pacing and "joke after joke, with no boring pauses." As for winning a Cappie, he said, "If we do it well, it definitely has a lot of potential — it's a great play."

TECH-CREW members Ben Pardo, 16, Laura Kim, 18, and Wes Vitale, 16, designed the set and also perform other duties. Pardo is in charge of sound. "I pick all the sound effects, run through the play with them and make sure they're in the right place," he explained.

He also designed the sounds, such as a doorbell or a phone ringing. And, said Pardo, "I have to make these things sound like they're coming from the house."

As stage manager, Kim takes care of things backstage and makes sure the set pieces are organized for scene changes, and that scene changes occur correctly and on time. She also helps out with props.

Vitale is in charge of lights. "I mix different colors for different times of day, and I can light one side of the stage and not the other," he said. "And I hung light fixtures inside the house that actually work. "Then we did the electrical wiring for them," added Pardo.

The set is the Stanleys' house — two staircases and an upstairs hall with banister, plus two bedrooms, a front door with a large, Palladian window and nine windows total. Furthermore, said Vitale, "The whole, 20-foot-wide by 16-foot-high wall — with the door and windows in it — moves."

Said Pardo: "We pull it back to change the visuals on stage, in the dark, and then move it back — all in under 30 seconds." Vitale said it took three weeks to make, with a tech crew of six core people and 10 others.

The design was a collaboration of all three students' ideas, and the stairs and doors were the toughest parts to build. "For the stairs, you have to measure the lengths of each step," said Vitale. "And you have to have enough space vertically to make the steps comfortable to go up," said Pardo.

"THE DOORS have to have precise measurements, or else they'll get stuck in the frames and won't work," said Vitale. But Kim said the hard work was worthwhile because "it's really awesome to see [the set] going from a model to the finished product on stage. It's a real sense of accomplishment." And, added Vitale: "We all love Mr. Monk."

Vitale said he liked having fun with other techies and "annoying the new ones. And I enjoyed building the two, bay windows and the door frame because, when I started, it was just a blank wall."

Pardo's favorite part was the fine-tuning: "Putting up the light fixtures and the pictures, and making it look more realistic, like a home."

Theater Director Ed Monk said he's "really excited about the play because, after spring break, it's really starting to gel; and, hopefully, we'll hit our stride at just the right time."

He also hopes the play will make the audience happy, including the Cappies critics. Said Monk: "I tell the kids, if they've made the audience happy, they've already won — everything else is gravy."