by Lynn on October 25, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the St. Vladimir Institute, 620 Spadina Ave. Written and directed by Jason Murray. Starring: Jennifer De Lucia, Jessie Gabe, Sean Kaufmann, Andrew Knowlton, Deanna L. Palazzo, Trevor Small, Daniel Stolfi, Breanne teBoekhorst.

Produced by Upstage Productions and pivotal(arts) theatre company inc.

First of all, bravo to this company of committed people who just want to put on plays and have been doing so for six years. This is my first time seeing their work and it is also impressive that they had such a big audience on such a lousy rainy night.

THE DINNER, written and directed by Jason Murray, is that kind of situation where a group of people are invited for dinner, painful truths and secrets are told and the result can be the end of friendships and relationships, or a new understanding develops.

Unfortunately neither happens in THE DINNER. While Jason Murray’s Director’s/Writer’s note tries to point out that his play is complex and full of cogent observation, the reality is that his play is really overblown with clichéd situations and underdeveloped characters.

In the same note Mr. Murray presents his theory of directing and in particular how he directed this play. His director’s note suggests that Mr. Murray is a novice at this endeavor and his actual direction of the play proves it.

The premise of THE DINNER is that a couple, Lance and Grace, invite three couples for Thanksgiving dinner. Most of them have been friends since high school. One woman friend brings a date. He is the stranger to the group. They are waiting for another couple who are late.

There is banter about the scourge of electronics and our love of them; the evils of commercialist and consumerism, and other philosophical rants from most of the assembled. It all rings hollow. No one actually talks like that. It isn’t banter. It seems like Mr. Murray is using these characters as mouthpieces for what peeves him.

When the other couple arrives and the insults fly, usually from one pompous doctor to the assembled, it becomes obvious that these people loath each other. And no I don’t believe the hostess when she says that this truth telling was a long time coming. These characters are not good enough actors to have hidden all this venomous animosity all these years. So again, Mr. Murray’s situations don’t ring true. There are so many revealed secrets whizzing through the air, one almost got dizzy.

Negotiating eight actors around a space is daunting for even an established director. Mr. Murray reveals his lack of experience by having actors move for no reason; having important scenes upstage where the lighting is inadequate; and generally being defeated by the writer’s premise. Remember Mr. Murray also wrote THE DINNER.

I noted that there are eight characters yet chairs/seats for only six of them. And no you cannot sit three people on a two person loveseat without all three looking cramped and silly. This is just common sense.

There is a long table upstage where the hosts are fussing with preparations, yet the guests don’t sit at that table or any table for that matter for this dinner. Instead they are told to sit where they can and the plates, cutlery and food is brought to them. Makes no sense. They are all told to be there at 7:30 sharp—one expects that the food will be ready precisely soon after. But no. The late couple arrive a half hour late and after more banter are told that the next part of the meal will be ready in 15 minutes. Makes no sense.

Much of the dialogue is lost because the actors talk so quickly or screech their lines as to be unintelligible. Some show promise—but all of them are hampered by their frequent inability to be understood

Ok. Enough. Again, bravo to this company for wanting to do theatre. But this effort is a disappointment and just not good enough.

THE DINNER plays at the St. Vladimir Institute 620 Spadina Ave. until Oct. 29.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mark October 26, 2011 at 3:16 pm

While I respect your opinion and obviously you have more experience viewing theatre than I, I would have to disagree with the tone of your review and I find it rather harsh.

I was in attendance yesterday and I left that theatre filled with emotion afterwards. The play was so thought provoking on so many levels! There may have been a few stumbles, but overall, I thought they did an excellent job.

As for the director / writer, I was so impressed it makes me cringe to read your review. Myself and the 4 other people I went with were all in agreement that it takes such a great mind to write such a play, and have it connect so well. I think you do an injustice to these ambitious talented individual’s by writing such review.

Maybe your standards are too high and I guess you are just doing your job, but I felt compelled to comment as myself and the others I went with, did not feel ANY of what your review leads any reader to think.

I highly recommend this play, it was fantastic.



2 Lynn October 26, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Dear Mark,

Thanks so much for taking the time to express your opinion. Truly, much appreciated. Whether I see more theatre than you do is irrelevant to the fact that you loved THE DINNER and I didn’t. And in that wonderful world known as theatre, there is room for both opinions. And both our opinions are right.

I generally don’t review such productions, that seem to be produced by well-meaning but perhaps not Actors’ Equity members, who are more community theatre than, ‘professional’. However I noted that there was a Dora Award juror for the Independent Theatre Category there last night. I know him. And he was there to ‘judge’ the play for possible nomination for the award. That means that this company had to join the umbrella organization of professional theatres that administers the Dora Awards to be eligible . Because of this I reviewed the play and company as if they are professional. I don’t believe there is any place for mediocrity in an art form such as theatre. I also don’t believe that one can have standards that are too high. We all want the best of the theatre we see.

You loved THE DINNER. I didn’t and said so. You will see from my other blogs that there was another play–THE GENTLEMAN CALLER–that was reviewed as harshly. I think that’s fair.

Again, thanks for writing. I do look forward to seeing more work from this company, as I’m sure you do too.

All the best,

Lynn Slotkin


3 Martin October 27, 2011 at 4:37 am

I have to agree with Mark’s previous remarks. I went to the play after reading a review by Crystal Wood in Mooney on Theatre. I was not expecting a great deal (I knew neither the writer nor the actors); however, I was really floored! I definitely felt emotional afterwards, and I have to say that I was on the edge of my seat! Very little about the dialogue ringed “hollow,” and being myself a person who spends a lot of time at dinner parties, I would have to say that I strongly disagree with you that “no one actually talks like that.” I was astounded that the woman sitting beside me started crying at one point telling me afterwards: “I’m so sorry, it just really pulled some strong cords with me!” This play obviously resonated deeply with some people.

I am pleased to know that a Dora judge was at the play. I hope he sees more in the play than you do.

I found your review when I got home; I was very disappointed that it came up at the very top of the browser. It is really a shame that people will read all of your negative comments before they have a chance to go see it; definitely an injustice!


4 Lynn Slotkin October 27, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Dear Martin,

As I said to Mark, thanks so much for taking the time to comment and say how much you liked THE DINNER. As I said before with Mark, we disagree and both opinions are correct. And of course that goes for the woman who was moved to tears.

I must confess your comments that it’s a shame people will read my negative comments before they have a chance to see the play, and that that is definitely an injustice, left me mystified. It’s a shame for people to see different opinions on a play they might see and judge for themselves? It’s an injustice they have a chance to see different opinions? As I said, mystifying. But no matter.

All the best
Lynn Slotkin