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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, IRT’s fine current offeringfirst came to light as a 1967 motion picture. No doubt you may have seen the Tracy/Hepburn film which also starred Sidney Poitier. The story of a young white woman announcing her engagement to a professional black widower was ground-breaking in its time, capturing the social “codes” of the day as they related to mixed-race relationships. It presented as well the honest perceptions their parents might have of a situation that is threatening to the couple’s well-being. This all serves to highlight the generational divide that existed, and which to a certain extent still exists, related to varied views of race, love and division.

Seeing the stage version of the story, which is adapted for the stage by Todd Kreidler, seamlessly directed by Skip Greer, and presented on an amazing set designed by Robert M. Koharchik, reminds us that while the divides have narrowed somewhat in the time since 1967, the entirety of the problem has not gone away.

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Annie Munch as Joanna Drayton talks with Chiké Johnson as Dr. John Prentice in IRT’s production of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

In what I think is one of the best sets of conflicts and circumstances in modern theatre, the full cast joins in force for a smooth and engaging depiction of this crisis situation. Annie Munch (as Joanna Drayton) and Chiké Johnson (as Dr. John Prentice) have a remarkable chemistry as the mixed-race couple who must face the familial complications that their planned marriage brings about. Craig Spidle and Brigitt Markusfeld adeptly teeter between their dismay and their liberal ideology as Ms. Drayton’s flabbergasted parents, Matt and Christina. Lynda Gravátt owns the role of the Drayton’s cook/housekeeper Matilda Binks, delivering some of the show’s best laugh lines along the way – but more importantly honestly enacting both sides of the conflict as she too struggles to discover that true love is the important catalyst here.

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Brigitt Markusfeld as Christina Drayton and Craig Spidle as Matt Drayton ponder the situation in IRT’s production of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

Add in – Cleavant Derricks and Nora Cole as Dr. Prentice’s likewise befuddled parents, John Sr. and Mary; Constance Macy – snooty as Hilary St. George, a family acquaintance who offers some unwanted advice; and Mark Goetzinger, delightfully upbeat as Monsignor Ryan who wisely illuminates the troublesome situation – to complete the entirely first class ensemble.

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Chiké Johnson as Dr. John Prentice and Lynda Gravátt as Matilda Binks in a scene from IRT’s production of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

Bottom line: This is a superior group of actors, presenting a compelling and truly still significant conundrum. I cannot see how it could have been performed any better. The set is absolutely stunning, and the stage work matches.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre through February 4th. For more specific information on dates and show times visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/ or call 317.635.5252.

*-Photos by Zach Rosing

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