When Tony-winning director Kenny Leon asked playwright Todd Kreidler to take a look at adapting the 1967 film, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” back in 2011, Kreidler wasn’t wild about the idea. No wonder. The film — which starred Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as affluent Californians whose liberal leanings are put to the test when their daughter arrives home with Sidney Poitier on her arm — was always too neat a package for some viewers and certainly seems dated today. “I had a lot of resistance,” says Kreidler, who served as dramaturge to the late playwright, August Wilson. “I thought, ‘Why do this as a play and how is this relevant?’’’
Despite his initial skepticism, Kreidler found his way into the material, and worked to fashion a show that, while still set in 1967, speaks to a 21st century audience. The adaptation — opening at Court Theatre March 15 — respects the key moments of the film while offering a different reading of the story. “The film is situation-driven, it’s a social problem film,” Kreidler says. “I wanted to make it a character-driven piece, so I focus on the relationships and the love story. In the film, the young couple have only known each other 10 days. I tweaked that to six months. I wanted to give them more emotional terra firma.”
Even before Leon directed the premiere in Atlanta six years ago, any number of people voiced concern about the appropriateness of the play. “There was tremendous pushback within the African-American community because of the way it portrayed this ideal black guy without any foibles,” Kreidler says. “Phylicia Rashad was among those who were very opposed, but she came around and ended up appearing in the premiere production.”
“I think constantly about what it means to investigate this particular artifact in our current moment in history,” says Marti Lyons, who directs the show at Court. “It will speak to 2018. It must.”
‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’
March 15-April 15, Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis. For tickets ($38-$74), visit Courttheatre.org
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