University Theatre at N.C. State will present George Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s hit Broadway comedy, Dinner at Eight, Aug. 7-23 in Thompson Theater in Raleigh, North Carolina. Fred Gorelick will direct this effervescent 1932 comedy about an intimate dinner party hurriedly organized by a social-climbing Park Ave. hostess to honor visiting English aristocrats.

Gorelick recalls, “I [first] saw the great 1933 MGM film [directed by George Cukor and starring Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, and Lionel Barrymore] when I was a senior in high school in New York City, on a double-bill with Grand Hotel at the old Thalia revival film theater on 96th St. on the West Side.”

He claims Dinner at Eight is a true ensemble piece and a showcase for some of the Triangle’s best actors and actresses.

“I like what the play says about American class society and the frivolities of the former upper class,” Gorelick confesses. “I very much enjoy directing classic well-made American plays. More and more, with playwriting echoing screenwriting, I find the challenges of sustaining interest in scenes that are longer than 45 seconds to be refreshing for all concerned.

“Nothing gets blown up in this play,” Gorelick quips, “except egos, reputations, and a way of living.”

Gorelick says, “The occasion of the play is the preparation for a small dinner party one week hence hosted by Millicent Jordan (Catherine Rodgers) and her husband, Oliver (Jordan Smith), which gathers old friends and strange bedfellows alike: the brash, nouveau-riche industrialist Dan Packard (Ben Kraudel) and his delightfully clueless wife, Kitty (Katie Flaherty); one of the great former ladies of the American stage, Carlotta Vance (Sandi Sullivan); the faded film star Larry Renault (Gregor McElvogue); his secret lover, the Jordans’ [19-year-old] daughter Paula (Jackie Willse); the reliable, in more ways than one, Dr. Talbot (Jon Pheloung) and his understanding wife, Lucy (Collette Rutherford); [and] our hostess’ sister and brother-in-law, Hattie and Ed Loomis (Nicole Quenelle and Rob Franklin Fox).

“The upstairs/downstairs view of the upper crust of New York society life, circa 1931, is also populated with the maid Dora (Kerry Sullivan); her amour, the butler Gustave (Francis Sarnie IV); the cook Mrs. Wendel (Leah Shawn Moye); and the tempestuous chauffeur Ricci (Jeramy Blackford),” notes Gorelick. “Rounding out the cast are Larry Renault’s agent Max Kane (David Klionsky); a stage director of renown, Jo Stengel (David Henry Hudson); the Hotel Versailles’ manager, Mr. Fisk (David Shouse); the good doctor’s nurse, Miss Adlen (Gina Lawrence); Kitty’s maid Tina (Kate Isley); and Eddie the put-upon bellhop (Jeff Besselman).”

Gorelick adds, “[Dinner at Eight] is rarely revived ([there have been] only two major NYC revivals since the premiere[in] 1966 and this past season at Lincoln Center) as it requires a large cast and six different interiors. One of the exciting roles a university theatre can play in this country is to keep alive those plays which are commercially problematic to produce in these times. Telling the story of the play, through our contemporary gaze, is the single largest challenge.”

Besides director Fred Gorelick, the production staff for Dinner at Eight includes critically acclaimed set and costume designer John C. McIlwee and lighting designers Terri L. Janney and Jeff Besselman. “Our technical director and his assistant, Corky Pratt and David Jensen, are as much responsible for the success of this production as any one of us on the creative team,” claims Fred Gorelick. “It is with their expertise that the magnificent [Art] Deco sets come to life.”

Gorelick says the production values of Dinner at Eight are outstanding. “Embraced by the Deco style in silver tones, the play guides us through the sitting room of the Jordans, the Packards’ bedroom, a suite in the Hotel Versailles, the doctor’s office, Oliver Jordan’s office at the Jordan Line, and the butler’s pantry below stairs in the Jordan home,” Gorelick notes. “The exquisite furniture used throughout the production is most generously loaned to us by Wood-Armfield of High Point.”

The director also encourages Triangle audiences to “Watch the cyclorama for some beautifully saturated color!”

Gorelick says, “As always, John C. McIlwee’s period costumes are a blend of the real McCoy (clothing actually made in the period), and supremely well-built replicas. They are a treat for the eye as they interpret characterization alongside the marvelous work of the cast.”

Director Fred Gorelick invites local theatergoers to “join us for a stylish evening of comic drama, in a rare chance to see a live production of this great play.” Moreover, Gorelick notes, anyone who purchases a 2003-2004 University Theatre at N.C. State season ticket will get a complimentary ticket for Dinner at Eight!

University Theatre at N.C. State presents Dinner at Eight Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 7-9, 14-16, and 21-23, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 10 and 17, at 3 p.m. in NCSU’s Thompson Theater, corner of Dunn Ave. and Jensen Dr., Raleigh, North Carolina. $14 ($6 NCSU students and $12 other students, seniors, and NCSU faculty and staff). 919/515-1100.