REVIEW: DINNER at The Edge Theater
by Owen Niland
Under the right circumstances a dinner party can be a most passive aggressive social event. A hostess welcomes you into her home for a meal, but your price of admission is that you heed her invitation to appear at the appointed hour, sit with whom she directs, eat what she provides when she provides it, and participate in whatever parlor games she has cooked up. What ample opportunity a dinner party’s hostess then has to underhandedly force her friends and loved ones to wriggle on the hook she’s set out.
In The Edge Theater Company’s production of Dinner by Moira Buffini, our hostess Paige (Carol Bloom) does just that under the guise of a dinner party for her selfishly self-satisfied investment banker-cum-writer-cum-pop-philosopher husband Lars (Verl Hite), who has just published a wildly self-indulgent self-help novel titled “Beyond Belief”.
Into her dinner’s mix Paige has tossed a mysteriously silent yet efficient waiter (Ronan Viard) along with guests Wynne (Emily Tuckman), Lars’ former girlfriend and now free-spirit vegan artist; recently divorced microbiologist Hal (Jack Wefso); Hal’s girlfriend, journalist/news-babe Sian (Samara Bridwell); and Mike (Sean Michael Cummings), a low-class van driver who’s unexpectedly broken down in front of Lars and Paige’s home. With her table set and guests in place, Paige’s dinner plans unfold.
It’s is apparent from the start that her guests, and indeed Paige herself, are not the redeemable type. Each cling to a façade, born of either fear or spite, which begin to crack under Paige’s calculated menu. A starter of algae soup asks if these bored upper-class Brits are “vacuously multiplying, gormlessly devouring and pointlessly expiring” as Hal describes his microbial subjects, or does the entrée prove they are gods granted power by their station to dictate life or death on those misfortunates lower on the food chain?
The wit here is dark, incisive, dry and very, very British. So British in fact that the program contains a cheat sheet of British slang, although anyone familiar with AbFab, Vicious or Dr. Who shouldn’t have much trouble following along.
Director Scott Bellot’s strong cast has the acumen to both understand the material and to execute Buffini’s razor sharp dialogue. Although in my mind the most compelling performance was Viard’s nearly mute waiter. The waiter’s demeanor and expression of detached grace served as a silent one-man Greek chorus commenting on the action under his gaze, and his palpable connection with Bloom’s Paige brought much needed heart to what under other circumstances could prove to be a clinical script.
Unfortunately, the strong performances of the actors were hemmed in by an inattention to design details which would have fully fleshed out the production.
A key focus of the script is the food Paige serves – it is a character in and of itself. I wanted to see the viscous bright green bubbling tureen of algae soup (an effect that could have been easily achievable in EDGE’s intimate space), not merely infer it by pantomime, and I was confused why the production didn’t take the time to spray paint the red prop lobsters gray-blue to indicate they hadn’t been cooked. Each of these are simple stagecraft fixes to maintain or even build upon the world the actors create.
Similarly, the costuming missed an opportunity create a true sense of distinction between the characters’ social classes. Although the ladies’ costumes were well executed, the men’s costumes fell short.
As Mike, Cummings maintained such a strong grip on his working-class British accent and demeanor that it was a shame to see such attention was not paid to his basic jeans and tee-shirt costume. Where was the rumpled grime you’d expect from a delivery driver whose van had just run off the road in a fog? On the flip-side of the coin, the costuming for Hite’s pompous Lars would have benefited from some Saville Row tailoring. A more polished costume design would’ve reinforced his “Übermensch” philosophy of self-actualization; a winner like Lars wouldn’t be seen in a suit more appropriate for a mid-90’s accountant.
DINNER by Moira Buffini plays Thursdays to Sundays through September 17th at the EDGE Theater 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood, CO.
Box Office: 303-232-0363
PHOTO CREDIT: RDG Photography