Review of Dinner at Home Between Deaths on stage at the Odyssey Theatre.
There comes a moment in Dinner at Home Between Deaths when it seems like the characters will sail into the bleak waters charted by Swimming with Sharks, the singularly unpleasant film starring Kevin Spacey and Frank Whaley. We are mercifully spared the pointless nasty cynicism, but the hopes that we’ll get something suitably Greek instead are also soon dashed. What we get to cap off the scenario of an investor exposed to his family as a fraud in the mold of Bernie Madoff – and an adulterer, too! – is a sort of amoral mush. I suppose this is fitting for the unaccountable age of subprime mortgage meltdowns and the drinking water debacle in Michigan.
Up until the production fades out to a tepid black, the affair is a brisk soirée of varying effect. Set up in the Odyssey’s smaller house, the audience straddles two sides of a stage smartly dressed as a New York penthouse, complete with a clever convertible prop that serves alternatively as table, sailboat, and bathtub. All that’s missing is set designer Evan Bartoletti on hand to serve appetizers and cocktails. It’s the intimacy of the space that firstly serves the play, which consists of an interrupted marital dinner conversation in which we are made to serve, tensely, as voyeurs. Second are the actors, who elevate fine material with arch performances that flirt with melodrama without crossing the line. As the impulsive cheat Todd Waring, Sean Lynch arguably has the most volatile (and fun) role, veering from emotional extremes in his portrayal of a man so caught up in delusion that even he can’t even discern the truth about himself. But it’s Diane Cary who really sells her portrayal of Sean’s wife Fiona; after all that’s revealed we believe, despite ourselves, the choices she makes. Rounding out the cast are Andrea Evans as Fiona’s sister Cat, a fundraiser whose foundation is threatened by Todd’s investment fraud, and her adopted daughter Lily (Amielynn Abellera), whose disappearance is of course nothing so simple.
Although billed as a “pitch-black comedy,” Dinner at Home Between Deaths is better described as a pitch-grey drama with moderately amusing moments. By today’s standards, playwright’s Andrea Lepcio doesn’t achieve – if she even aims for – the level of cynicism, sharpness, or luridness that we find even in the presidential primaries, let alone comparable works from our various performing arts. What we get is a sense of resignation, a great resounding “meh,” dinner at home between shrugs. The humor rests more on the actors’ delivery than on the contrived efforts that suggest every so often Ms. Lepcio remembered her intention to write a comedy.
I would question the decision to have Mr. Lynch and Ms. Cary lapse into Irish brogue, as if the play were a musical with actors startling audiences by breaking into accents every so often. Also questionable is how director Stuart Ross stages the play’s dark heart, Lily’s death. Ironic detachment for comic effect is one thing, but without nuance and a certain formal style, the result is simply glib. Lily’s death also exemplifies an unfortunate lack of passion in the staging; a lack of horror in the event, a lack of sympathy for the victim. All that remains is a curiously Looney Tunes hairpin turn in her dispatcher’s demeanour (the play isn’t a mystery, but the vagueness is deliberate for spoiler-averse readers).
There’s something to be said for the breezy 90-minute format, though. We can at least enjoy watching the cast bounce off each other without the jolt of an intermission.
Dinner at Home Between Deaths, by Andrea Lepcio. On stage at the Odyssey Theatre April 2 – May 8. Tickets are $30. For showtimes and more information, call (323) 960-4429 or visit www.plays411.com/dinner.
Frédérik Sisa is the Page’s Assistant Editor and Resident Art Critic. He can be reached at email@example.com.