The heartbreaking thing about the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s current show, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, is that it’s still incredibly relevant. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it feels timely in a way that is surprising since it’s set 50 years in the past.
The story revolves around a married couple whose adult daughter, Joanna (Annie Munch), comes home from a trip and announces she’s getting married. The joyous news is met with consternation when her parents discover her betrothed is a black man. Despite the fact that he’s a brilliant doctor and complete gentleman, they are concerned that their daughter doesn’t know how difficult her interracial marriage will be. In a world where Black Lives Matter and racially-driven shootings by police are daily items on the news, it’s a good time to see this play. It creates some awkward conversations; important ones that folks shouldn’t shy away from.
I think one of the most powerful aspects of the plot is that Joanna’s father is not a man you would expect to have reservations about a black man marrying his daughter. He’s long trumpeted the importance of equal rights in his newspaper, but it’s a harder pill to swallow when it arrives on his own doorstep.
The set, created by the talented scenic designer Robert Koharchik, is just breath-taking. The two-story 1960s home includes a stone fireplace, artwork, open floor plan, and wood paneling. It feels like you’ve stumbled into a real California home, not at all like a set that’s on stage for less than a month. The attention to detail gives an added gravity to the play because the whole thing feels more realistic in that setting.
Mark Goetzinger’s excellent turn as the Monsignor was a highlight. His straight forward nature allows him to speak truth when it’s easier for others to disguise their prejudice in a million different ways. Chiké Johnson plays Dr. John Prentice, Joanna’s fiancé. His performance is beautifully executed. From quiet reserved moments to incredulity to dramatic bursts of anger. He reveals Prentice to the audience slowly and carefully. His 2015 role in the Island was a powerful one, but this role gave him the chance to exhibit and even wider range of emotions.
Although the main focus is racial tension, the play covers so much more ground than that. It’s about marriage, the relationship between a child and their parents, grief and loss, and so much more. It incorporates humor and poignant moments of sweet affection into the show, providing moments of levity. It’s a production that approaches tough topics in a way that opens doors and encourages discussion, instead of shutting them down. That’s something we could all use more of right now.
Don't Miss the Show
The Indiana Repertory Theatre is located at 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, one-half block west of the Circle Center Mall between northbound Illinois St. and southbound Capitol Ave. "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner " runs until Feb. 4 on IRT's OneAmerica Mainstage. Times for performances can be found at www.irtlive.com or by calling the IRT box office at (317) 635-5252. To purchase tickets call (317) 635-5252 or order online at www.irtlive.com
Photos courtesy of the IRT