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Curtain Goes Up on Local Production

WILTON, Conn. – As five actors run through a final scene in "The Man Who Came to Dinner," director Meredith Walker sits in the darkened Wilton Playhouse at a table strewn with props, water bottles and her barely touched dinner and gets an idea.

Up until now, after Kyle Montoya as Dr. Bradley says his last line, he promptly exits. Walker suggests instead that he leave, then fling open the French doors to deliver his final words. The move takes what was a throwaway line and turns it into a huge laugh-getter from the rest of the cast.

Walker, who grew up in Wilton and once performed in the Playshop's annual student-run project, has returned to direct 18 young actors from Wilton, Norwalk, New Canaan and Bethel in the classic 1930s screwball comedy.

The show, which opens Friday, tells the story of celebrity radio host Sheridan Whiteside, played by D.J. Copland, 18, who accepts an invitation to dine with the Stanley family in their Ohio home during a lecture stop. Dinner, however, drags on for weeks after he slips outside the home and fractures his hip. Most of the show's comedy comes from the culture clash between the New York doctor and the Midwestern family.

"The Man Who Came to Dinner" also marks the first time Sunny Stanfield, 16, who will be a junior at Wilton High School , steps into a role at the Playshop. Stanfield plays the Stanley's maid, a part she walked into after rehearsals started.

"It was sort of serendipitous. I saw Meredit and knew some of the cast members had dropped out," said Stanfield. "I asked if I could audition and she said, 'Do you just want to be in the show?'" Walker had directed Stanfield in the Wilton High production of "Almost, Maine," and knew the young actress could handle the role, which has few lines but much time onstage.

For Luke Lanza, 17, a rising senior at Wilton High, the show also marks his Playshop debut. It will also be the first time Lanza appears in drag on stage. "It's a hoot-and-a-half playing a nurse, especially a man of my stature," said Lanza.

The 6-foot-2-inch actor has also devised a voice for his character that is part Monty Python and part Patricia Routledge from "Keeping Up Appearances." It works especially well for this put-upon woman who suffers non-stop insults from Whiteside.

Copland, 18, who just finished his freshman year at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia , stays put on stage in a wheelchair as Whiteside and has a lot to say. It's a return to the stage for this Norwalk resident who studied screenwriting but is looking to act more often.

"This is the first time I've had a role this big," said Copland. "The hardest part has been learning the lines and keeping the blocking cues straight. ... This has really helped confirm now that this is the right thing for me to do."

Nathan Schmidt, 17, who will be a senior this fall at Wilton High, doesn't consider himself an actor but was looking for something fun to do over the summer. He knew a couple of his friends planned to audition, so he decided to give it a try and got the part of Mr. Stanley.

"I really like trying to be an uptight father. He is the quintessential, stern 1930s father," said Schmidt. "And I like spending time with people coming up with something that is ours."

"The Man Who Came to Dinner" has shows Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students/seniors. Order tickets online at www.wiltonplayshop.org or by calling the theater at 203-762-7629.

What shows have you seen at the Wilton Playhouse? Tell us about them below.

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