Dinner is darkly hilarious, absurdist and at times psychologically frightening. The play, similar to Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, is about a dinner party gone terribly wrong. Serving under the contemporary half of its “Witches and Wine” repertory, 4615 Theatre Company is playing British playwright Moira Buffini’s Dinner alongside Macbeth, which is directed by 4615’s Artistic Director Jordan Friend. Dinner, expertly directed by Stevie Zimmerman, delivers 90 intermission-free minutes of the blackest humor you’ve seen in ages.
Approximately 15 minutes into the show, most of the characters are in place: Paige, the British socialite hostess, with lots in common with Lady Macbeth; the waiter who Paige hired from the Web to serve her guests; Lars, Paige’s self-help-book author husband, who exhorts his readers to “be the phoenix”; Wynne, an eccentric, lovelorn artist; Hal, a quiet microbiologist and his TV reporter wife, Sian.
The dark madness of the story started when Paige announced her first dinner course literally would be “Primordial Soup”–and it descended from there. Playwright Buffini is a founder of a movement known as Monsterism, which supports the production of epic, contemporary plays. Paige, played with a sadistic glee by Alani Kravitz (a musical theater graduate from Syracuse University) was the type of character that imagined aloud that if Jesus Christ was her dinner guest he would “hold us up to judgment–we’d all get indigestion.”
The cruelty Paige inflicted upon her husband, Lars, and her guests continually broke shocking barrier after shocking barrier. Kravitz’s performance was phenomenal.
Equally amazing was Charlene V. Smith, who played artist Wynne, recently broken up with her husband, and a past lover of Lars. Smith’s Wynne, a sensitive sort, had an unforgettable scene in which she prattled on and on about the fate of lobsters without claws–only to have Paige rudely announce something that upset Wynne all the more. Smith is the Artistic Director of Brave Spirits Theatre.
In scene number two, the hazy-intentioned character Mike showed up. Mike, driving on a foggy night that all the characters complained about, had wrecked his van and needed a phone to call for help. Jared H. Graham played Mike with a sly duality, telling lie after lie about who he really was. “Why is it that lies are more definite than the truth?” he lamented at one point.
Joshua Simon’s Hal and Morgan Sendek’s Sian had a great rapport. One toe-to-toe marital argument, in particular, stood out. Simon made his 4615 debut in this show; Sendek has appeared in several 4615 shows, including King John.
Brendan McMahon, seen in 4615’s King John last summer, had minimal lines, but kept up the intensity as his waiter character showed undying loyalty to Paige. Matthew Castleman exhibited a controlled fury in his scenes as his character Lars reached a volcanic level of vitriol for his wife, Paige.
I commend Brian Gillick for his prop design–how did he get those fake lobsters in a pot to move? Gillick’s scenic design was simple and elegant, consisting of a long table, chairs, a white rug, a few white door frames and black curtains for walls. Benjamin Weigel’s costumes were apropos and contemporary. I liked the dress he put Kravitz in.
Director Zimmerman did what a good director should do in a talking-head play such as this one: ensure the cues are picked up seamlessly and in a timely manner. Dinner is a theater-lover’s dream-come-true, and an excellent specimen of stagecraft. Catch it while it’s here.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Dinner plays through August 25, 2018, at 4615 Theatre Company performing at The Highwood Theatre – 914 Silver Spring Avenue, Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 928-2738, or purchase them online.
Note: For more on 4615 Theatre Company and its current “Witches and Wine” repertory, read Sophia Howes’ review of Macbeth, and Nicole Hertvik’s interview with Artistic Director Jordan Friend.