A new tradition?

So our extended family adds up to seventeen members, and we wanted to do something that all of us could plunge in to together. Movies are fabulous, but really, a movie means that we all sit and watch passively (which believe me I'm all for, especially if popcorn is involved). A game night was another excellent option, but it's tricky to find a game that we can all play together. The age range of this family starts at kindergarten and continues on for several decades. Luckily all of us are readers, so we decided that it would be fun to choose a hilarious play, and read it together.

My step-sister and I chose Dinner at Eight, and she arranged for all the families to have access to the script. One night of our family beach extravaganza, we dealt out the roles and gathered together to read the play out loud.

The sunny girl (who has the best fake British accent in the family) had no problem at all taking on the role of Carlotta (Marie Dressler in the movie), the fading stage beauty -- down on her luck but still imperious and hilariously cynical:
And then I had a restful, nice luncheon... with four lawyers. On the 88th floor of the Chrysler building. You know, the Sky Club. A cloud floated right into my soup plate.
Her cousin the soldier was Oliver Jordan, the goodhearted (but weakhearted) business man (Lionel Barrymore in the movie), who tries to shore up his failing business, knowing all the while that he is dying. And in this picture it just looks like my husband is avoiding the shenanigans; in reality he was whipping up milkshakes, and returned in time to play both a sinister chauffeur and the manager of a washed-up actor.

My sister and I read the parts of the two sisters in the play. I probably had more fun than she did, because I got to play the hilariously self-absorbed Millicent (that's Billie Burke -- "Glinda the Good" in The Wizard of Oz!), while my sister was the level-headed and ironic Hattie.

This one got some of the best lines in the play, since she played Kitty, the former hat-check girl who tries to push herself into high society (the movie stars sexy, sexy Jean Harlow in her best role). One of my favorite Kitty lines: "Politics! You couldn't get into politics -- you couldn't even get into the men's room at the Astor!"

Uncle Doctor was hilarious as the rich and greedy former miner who is full of shady business schemes, while his youngest urchin (who just finished kindergarten) did a fantastic job as the room service waiter. He got the biggest applause of the night, for lines like, "Your coffee, sir -- and this time I made sure it was good and hot."

Some of us were talented enough to double up on the roles: my dad took on both the hotel manager and the assistant manager. Since most of their conversations are with each other, this was a pretty impressive trick. Grandma Carol, who refuses to be photographed, played the part of the cook, who worries all day about her lobster aspic. And can I just say, you should have heard the squeals of fear and disgust when the urchins were told what lobster aspic is. No class, any of them. Check out Grandma Carol's manicure!

My fairy god-sister (my step-sister, who waved her magic wand, and bibbity-bobbity-boo! -- my job teaching college English appeared!) took on several roles as well. And check out Grandma Carol's manicure -- and the fairy god-sister's, too!

This middle school cousin in the foreground was the snarky bellhop, while the recent high school grad was suave and sophisticated as a philandering doctor . . .

. . . . and the grad's own sister played his nurse (his other sister was his mistress, which was, as they both declared, "awkward").

The not-so-tall boy and honorary cousin may have just finished his first year at West Point, but he obviously has a little thespian in him in addition to his airborne and soldiering skills. He was a most excellent snooty butler.

The girl in charge played young Paula Jordan, engaged to be married, but secretly having an affair. [Texting fingers alert -- looks like she takes after the tall boy.]

And the person who took the Scenery Chewing award for the night was my sister's husband. He's always been one of the funniest people I know, so while in real life he is the pastor of a lovely Bible-believing church, he plunged in hilariously to the role of Larry Renault, the alcoholic has-been movie star (John Barrymore in the movie, if you're keeping track). People, this is a man who never takes the Lord's name in vain, and rarely drinks anything stronger than a beer. So you can imagine that when we heard him declaim with gusto, "My God, Paula! Can't you see that I need a drink? I've got to have one, I tell you!" it brought down the house.

I will say that we were reading the script from the Broadway play, not from the 1933 film. So we did miss one of the funniest exchanges of dialogue ever, which was added to the movie:
KITTY: I was reading a book the other day.
CARLOTTA: Reading a book??!
KITTY: Yes. It's all about civilization or something. A nutty kind of a book. Do you know that the guy says that machinery is going to take the place of every profession?
CARLOTTA: Oh, my dear, that's something you need never worry about.

All movie stills are from Dinner at Eight (MGM, 1933, dir. George Cukor)