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Repertory Theatre Sets The Table For ‘Dinner’

Anderson Matthews, as Matt Drayton, and Richard Prioleau, as John Prentice Jr., perform in The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.'
Jerry Naunheim Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

There are a lot of similarities between “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” the movie and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” the play.

“The iconic moments are all there,” said Seth Gordon, associate artistic director of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

It’s still an interracial love story. It’s still set in the 1960s. The play, adapted for the stage in 2012 by playwright Todd Kreidler, includes many of the movie’s memorable moments and monologues. But there also are some differences.

“Todd has fleshed the characters out in a way that the film doesn’t do nearly as much,” Gordon told “Cityscape” host Steve Potter on Friday. “In particular, the character of Joanna, the young woman who brings her intended home to meet the family. Exactly why she does the things that she does and orchestrates this dinner in the manner that she does is not quite explained in the film. In the play the character has the opportunity to speak her mind a little bit more.”

Although 10 percent of marriages now involve people of different races, “Dinner” is still controversial to some. Gordon said he began working on bringing the play to St. Louis months before the August shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, which has spurred protests and conversations about race.  

“I knew that this is a conversation that it would be very good for really any municipality, any city to have with itself about what it’s like to invite someone who is other than yourself into your home and perhaps even into your family, and how does that test your preconceptions not only of that person, but also of yourself and your own thoughts and feelings about what it means to be a family and have a family and have some family members who don’t necessarily look and act like you,” he said.

“I think it also speaks to any kind of difference, from gay marriage to Muslims and Jews — bringing the ‘other’ into your home and looking for acceptance, I think it resonates with audiences that way,” Kreidler said.

But at its heart, “Dinner” remains a love story, Gordon said.

“I put together a romantic comedy,” he said. “That’s really what the play is: It’s a play about a woman who brings her intended home to meet the parents, and the fact that the intended is black and the family is white opens up a whole other range of issues. We’re hoping to entertain people, and we’re hoping to get them thinking about an issue that quite often is not discussed.”

“It’s about getting people to the table,” Kreidler said. “I think the play actually invites us that there’s a lot more work to be done. If we can just get to that table, metaphorically and literally in the story, I think we’ll be better off.”

Related Event

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"

  • When: Jan. 9-Feb. 1, 2015
  • Where: Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts at Webster University, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves
  • More information

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.