… Truth(s) …
Bay Street bills this world premier of DINNER as a satyric comedy, but for the most part it draws its laughs from the bizarre rather than the witty. Paige, in a formal white dress, making final touches to the table for a dinner party to celebrate her husband’s new book, kisses the hired waiter — well, perhaps that’s not so bizarre. But the Menu, that includes Primordial Soup, Apocalypse of Lobster and, for dessert, Frozen Waste, is.
Some people, I’m told, took it for “just a simple play.” With that menu?
A constant delight of DINNER is Mercedes Ruehl’s wonderful way with tossed off ironies. At tense moments, she circles her hand vaguely toward the Waiter, “We need drinks.” Does that sound funny? It is, when she says it, as are her more wildly imaginative riffs on the course of events, and her guests.
The guests gather, Wynne, an artist, Paige’s husband Hal, a Scientist, Sian, a newscaster, Hal’s wife. Wynne’s husband couldn’t make it, having left his wife just before the party — oh oh, Hostess Paige, a perfectionist, now has an empty place at the table. Whoever will take that place??? Whoever indeed. We are given a premonitory hint: “In my family, we always said an empty place at the table was for Christ.” It’s Mike, though, who comes in, a young lower class man needing to use the phone — and the bathroom — because his van broke down.
Thrown in among the fancy folks Mike passes himself off, for fun, sort of, as a thief who has just robbed the house next door. Thrills and chills, contact with those lower classes, he’s soon invited to fill the empty seat at the table. But is it true he’s a thief? Or false? Paige, who’s bitterly at odds with everyone, most of all with her husband, develops a rapport with Mike: she protects him when her husbands wants to throw him out, and lets him “steal” an oversized gilded antique Cupid from her bathroom — Christ, after all, is Love.
From Primordial Soup to Frozen Waste, this is a play about truth and falsehood, life and death, and the invitees are emblematic societal interpreters: scientist, artist, newscaster, and Mike — who turns out to be quite a pragmatist. But what about Paige who sees everything through the prism of irony? She defines herself as the one who “does nothing.” A social parasite. But when you’re dealing with ultimates, is anything truer than irony?
oh, and the Waiter … he waits — there’s an ultimate truth there, too.
The play would be more compelling if, in addition to being teased by “what’s this all about,” the audience could grasp a conflict. Still, DINNER holds up well as an intricate parable: I can’t prove that here, though, without revealing the recipes for the dessert — and main course — and that wouldn’t be fair, they’re too full of bizarre surprises.
Bay Street Theatre comes through, as always, with a production that brings out fully the values of its plays. DINNER is at Bay Street, in Sag Harbor, through August 2.