* Roundabout Theater Company at the American Airlines Theatre, New York City * Written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart * Directed by Jerry Zaks * Starring Nathan Lane and Jean Smart * through October 15.

“I may vomit!” From the charming first line he speaks onstage in *The Man Who Came to Dinner*, Nathan Lane tears into the role of Sheridan Whiteside like a meat-eater just escaped from a vegetarian cult.

In George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s 1939 classic American comedy, Whiteside is a famous larger-than-life radio personality. His whistle-stop lecture tour of the Midwest turns into a three-week incarceration in the Ohio home of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley, on whose icy front steps he breaks a leg. The setup allows Whiteside to hurl nonstop high-speed invective at his hapless hosts and caretakers while conducting his business of world-class name-dropping and social intrigue from the living room of their house.

When the play first opened, audiences knew the real-life models for such characters as Sheridan Whiteside (Alexander Wolcott), the composer-performer Beverly Carlton (Noel Coward), and the Hollywood comedian Banjo (Harpo Marx). Those references may elude us today -- does anyone under 40 have a clue who Kit Cornell was? -- but we have our own intelligence, which includes enough gaydar to pick up the scent of homosexuality. Lane’s Whiteside is literally a bitch on wheels who has a soft spot in his heart for paroled convicts and choir boys, and Byron Jennings plays Beverly with a suave narcissism that speaks volumes. And in the flashiest cameo, Lewis J. Stadlen’s Banjo turns a reference to J. Edgar Hoover into a mincing-fag impersonation. Such was gay pride, circa 1939.

Even for anyone who knows the play from having done it in high school or from the famous movie version starring Monty Wooley, this revival is fun for days. Director Jerry Zaks reconfirms his mastery at adrenalin-boosted comic staging. As usual he pulls fantastic performances from every rank of his large cast.

The best thing about the show, which will be broadcast live on TV October 7, is that it both unleashes and contains every last ounce of Nathan Lane’s prodigious comic shtick, especially his astonishing vocal range. In the past he’s often been too hammy for my tastes, but here he won me over. He’s the first stage star of his generation to cross over to film and TV fame; his racy patter with Rosie O’Donnell on this year’s Tony Awards established him as one of TV’s gayest icons and loosest cannons. But *Dinner* proves he’s still most at home playing to the rafters in a big-time Broadway show.

The Advocate, October 10, 2000

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