THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER -- At the Arena Stage through January 4. $1
Q: What do the following people have in common?
H.G. Wells, Felix Frankfurter, Katherine Cornell, Schiaparelli, the Lunts, Haile Selassie, Mahatma Gandhi, Arturo Toscanini, Lawrence Tibbett, Kirsten Flagstad, Ethel Barrymore, Louella Parsons, Samuel Goldwyn, Salvador Dali, the Sultan of Zanzibar, Ginger Rogers, the Khedive of Egypt, Shirley Temple, Billy Rose, Ethel Waters, Somerset Maugham, Admiral Byrd, Walt Disney, Donald Duck, Sybil Cartwright, Beatrice Lillie and Hedy Lamar. A: They are all very dear friends of Sheridan Whiteside's. Q: Who's Sheridan Whiteside? A: He's Alexander Woollcott, of course. Q: Who's -- A: Oh, for heaven's sake, look it up. THE PLACE TO DO SO is at Arena Stage, where the Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman comedy "The Man Who Game to Dinner" is playing. If you also need to find out in advance who John L. Lewis and Zasu Pitts are, then you are fortunate enough to be seeing this delicious farce for the first time.
It is also good the umpteenth time around, and probably even if you head does not contain the 1939 equivalent of a copy of People magazine.
The concepts of egomania, celebrity-worship and the insult as an art have not disappeared among us. If God had not invented Woollcott, Harpo Marx, Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, Kaufman and Hart would simply have had to do so from scratch.
Arena's snappy production was directed by Douglas C. Wager, who did last year's Kaufman & Hart at Arena, "You Can't Take It With You." His simple solution is to have everybody going off in all directions at once, a classic example of suiting action to words.
Most of the cast are veteran members of the company, with Mark Hammer in the cantankerous lead, and the range of eccentricity represented by Stanley Anderson, Richard Bauer, Dorothea Hammond, Halo Wines, Terrence Currier, Robert Prosky and Leslie Cass, whose years in and out of the company range from eight to 30.
It is a pleasure to see them, and relative newcomers such as Annalee Jefferies, Robert W. Westenberg, Kimberly Farr and Gerry Kassarda, meshing individually fresh performances so well.
And it is intended as a great compliment to note with amazement that individually or combined, they were at all times able to hold their own against a most formidable stage presence -- a hugh, slow-moving, glitmesh elevator that made majestic appearances through Adrianne Lobel's set.