'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' translates well on stage

An important black doctor whose work frequently takes him to Africa falls in love with a young white woman in Hawaii. When the doctor says his fiancee believes their children will all grow up to be U.S. presidents, it may occur to you that "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" is far more prescient than anyone imagined in 1967.

When the film starring Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy was released that year, the civil rights movement was still playing out, miscegenation was illegal in 17 states, and America was 41 years away from electing its first black president.

Fast forward to the present, and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" has come round again. This time, the story journeys from screen to stage in a world premiere adaptation by Todd Kreidler, produced by True Colors Theatre and directed by Kenny Leon. Working from screenwriter William Rose's original script, Kreidler and Leon's top-notch cast deliver a sterling production — one that makes a case for reappraising the somewhat creaky living-room drama the same way Leon's Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" did.

If the play does travel to Broadway (as Leon plainly wishes), let's just hope it takes with it Atlanta actors Tess Malis Kincaid (in Hepburn's Oscar-winning role as the patrician San Francisco art gallery owner who sides with her daughter), Tom Key (as the blustery newspaperman/father) and Andrea Frye (as the family maid). Though the casting of Phylicia Rashad as the doctor's mother has been hyped and headlined, theater-goers should know that the Broadway star plays a relatively minor part. (The maid's role is bigger and more interesting.)

While remaining faithful to the contrived and heavy-handed source, Kreidler (who worked as August Wilson's dramaturg during the great playwright's final years) adds some lovely comedic touches, a spiritual song or two and a few somewhat unnecessary literary flourishes to the play, which unlike the film is confined to the Drayton family's sumptuous living room and terrace. (Set designer Kat Conley gets an A+ for the elegant approximation of the art-filled home, and Jonida Beqo's costumes are appropriate to the period.)

In his adaptation, Kreidler deepens the importance of the bossy, bristling maid (who is incensed by the seeming superiority of the doctor) and fleshes out the role of Hilary (Mrs. Drayton's snoopy gallery manager, played to the nines by Elizabeth Wells Berkes).

There are no words to describe the look on Kincaid's face as her character realizes her daughter's boyfriend is black. "My goodness," indeed. Kincaid is perfect. While Afemo Omilami is good as the doctor's father, the priest feels a little tacked on, like a Hollywood stock character, and David de Vries can't quite nail the accent of the tipsy Irishman.

In seeing his daughter (the wonderful Bethany Anne Lind) fall in love with the noble Dr. John Prentice (a rather unconvincing Tory Kittles), Matt Drayton must come to grips with his own hypocrisy. Will he live up to the progressive politics that he's apparently preached so well in public and (perhaps to his regret) at home? "Guess Who's Coming" is a smart revisitation of a burnished classic that insists on peering behind the mask of denial and self-congratulation that most of us wear. Well done.

Theater review

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"

Grade: A-

8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Also, 1 p.m. July 18. No show on July 17. Through July 29. $20-$100. True Colors Theatre, Rialto Center for the Arts, 80 Forsyth St. N.W. Atlanta. 1-877-725-8849, www.ticketalternative.com

Bottom line: Classic film makes successful journey to stage.