How do we as humans learn to love and treat each other equally despite our differences?
According to House and Box Office Manager junior Kate Johnson, this is one of the big societal questions of today that is tackled in Taylor’s production of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”.
“Guess Who's Coming to Dinner” takes place in the summer of 1967 and tells the story of a white woman returning home with her new fiance. He’s a successful doctor who also happens to be black. Throughout the entirety of the play, characters address their own biases and fragility, which ultimately results in the fate of the interracial couple.
Junior Eleana Manning portrays the character Joanna in the play, who is engaged to John, played by sophomore Israel Smith.
“I play Joanna, or Joey,” said Manning.“ She’s awesome, and I’d like to be more like her. She’s bright and kind and optimistic.”
Manning was not the only one to share a connection with her character as Smith relays his admiration for his character, John.
“The connection I formed with him is his strength,” said Smith.“I aspire to be as strong as he is, especially for the time they are in. I can’t imagine living in the 1960s and being a world-renowned doctor, potentially giving it all up for the girl he loves.”
The storyline of the play lends itself to the realities of what it looked like to be an interracial couple in the 1960s and what it truly means to love another without looking at race. Johnson explained that the Taylor theatre department tries to put on shows that address issues happening in our world today, which is not lost upon the cast.
“This show means a lot to me emotionally,” said Manning.”I think this past year has revealed a lot of biases and fragility I didn’t know I had. I’m working on it, but the play really presents this experience realistically.”
In preparing for this production, the cast and crew has faced additional challenges due to the coronavirus and social distance guidelines. Johnson expressed that there were specific hours of the day that production staff members worked because there could only be a handful of them working on the same shift. The cast and crew were all required to wear masks during every rehearsal, and the cast will be performing with masks as well.
The audience will be spaced apart by two seats, and they will be seated every other row. An assistant stage manager will check every audience member’s temperature before granting them access to the theatre to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
However, it is difficult to avoid the inevitable. There were a handful of cast members and a production staff member who were quarantined during rehearsals.
“My favorite memory is when they walked back into rehearsal,” Manning said in reference to those who were quarantined. “We all cheered. It was very exciting to know the show wasn’t over.”
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” specifically highlights the realities of being an interracial couple in the 1960s, but it also emphasizes the love that John and Joanna share. Smith believes that John showcases his love for Joanna through a conversation that he has with her parents, while Manning believes their love is shown through a conversation that John and Joanna share with one another.
“I love the scene between John and Joey in act two,” Manning said. “I don’t want to spoil anything, but after a long day, it’s a moment when they remember that they love each other.”
The inspiration for the set of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was based upon the overarching idea that the play takes place in the home of Joanna’s parents, Christina and Matt, both progressive, wealthy individuals, hence the modern 1960s home. Senior Emma Dahlquist, who plays Hilary in the play, contributed to the set because she made the couch, which is a focal point on stage.
“I started with a research image given from our scenic designer Kevin Gawley,” said Dahlquist. “From there, I used a 3D modeling program called SketchUp and sketched up a model of the couch.Then, I drafted how to build the couch. We utilized twin mattresses and other props to build the couch in about a week's time.”
Taylor productions are unique in the sense that the cast and crew will never be in the same room with the same exact people ever again, which technical director Conner Reagan has brought to light, according to Johnson. The cast and crew all have come to their own conclusions regarding the play and how it speaks to them, which will contribute to the performances.
“This show reveals how even people who think they’re ahead of their time have biases,” Manning said. “I think that’s very applicable to now as people confront their own racism.”