A delightfully menacing ‘Dinner’ hits the spot

DinnerSILVER SPRING – “Dinner,”a fabulous and challenging play by Moira Buffini, is now appearing at Silver Spring’s The Highwood Theatre performed by the 4615 Theatre Company. The production is something of a classic British-style drawing-room mystery; the setting is the home of an upper-class English socialite, with an odd assortment of upper-class dinner guests attending, plus a servant. Guests include a writer, a celebrity TV news reporter and one member of the working class – the latter of whom may or may not be a criminal.

This engrossing play presents a number of faces to the audience. The time period is somewhat ambiguous; a vintage jazz soundtrack plays in the background and the minimalist staging initially suggests a mid-twentieth century time setting until references are made to mobile phones and the Internet. Sometimes the play seems like a hard-edged version of a Noel Coward comedy, sometimes it is a “comedy of menace” à la David Campton and Harold Pinter, and sometimes it is like a mystery from the BBC cult radio horror series “Fear on Four.” Indeed, the author, Buffini, has written for BBC television, notably an adaptation of the gothic novel “Jane Eyre.”

It is not the gothic element, however, but the dialogue which makes this play shine. Mordant gallows humor and wit are evident throughout the show, with initially polite dinner party games veering towards themes such as hate, humiliation and suicide, all spoken with impeccable British accents! Moreover, it is essential to follow the conversations closely, as many of the themes and references come up repeatedly and also help drive the mystery.

There are also philosophical discussions, with references to Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” and “The Will to Power.” Special mention goes to Alani Kravitz, who portrays Paige (the socialite hostess) compellingly in a gamut of emotions, ranging from vulnerable to winsome to despicable. She is joined by a talented cast, including Matthew Castleman as Paige’s morally ambiguous professional-author husband, Lars, Joshua Simon as Hal (a less successful writer than Lars), Morgan Sendek as Hal’s reporter wife Sian, Charlene V. Smith as Wynne (visibly attracted to Paige’s husband), and Jared Graham as working-class Mike. Speaking only towards the end of the play, Brendan McMahon is the silent, menacing, and omnipresent waiter/servant hired for the household dinner party.

Note should also be made of several unique traits of the 4615 Theatre Company. This aggregation has an unusual rotating repertory system which it follows every season, in which two plays are presented in the same month by the actors. Productions usually are paired, with one play being modern and the other classic; however, the themes and/or plots of the two plays intersect in some way. In August, the contemporary play “Dinner” (directed by Steve Zimmerman) is juxtaposed with Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth” (directed by Jordan Friend).

Audiences are encouraged to attend both plays; in this case, we are invited to recognize there is something malevolent and Lady Macbeth-like in Paige, the hostess in “Dinner.” The “dinner” itself may be likened to Banquo’s banquet in Shakespeare’s “Scottish play.”   Other parallels between the two works are present as well, which 4615 invites viewers to explore for themselves.

In addition to the rotating repertory of its productions, the 4615 Theatre Company is unusual for the relative youth of its producers. Jordan Friend founded the company while still an undergraduate at Ithaca College’s theatre conservatory in 2014.

“The company's entire core leadership team members are all in our mid-20s!” notes Mr. Friend. Lighting designer Dylan Uremovich and costume designer Benjamin Weigel are currently students in the MFA design program at the University of Maryland, College Park. In order to encourage youth drama, 4615 also takes on summer apprentices.

Following the spirit of 4615, I would also like to point out a few other youth-oriented dramatic arts opportunities in our region. An unusual opportunity for college-aged actors, theatre artists, and technicians is offered at the Montgomery College Dinner Theatre.

Its recent production of “West Side Story” was an excellent rendition of the Leonard Bernstein musical, commemorating the 100th anniversary year of the composer’s birth. Professional musicians and sophisticated lighting and set designers provided the orchestral color of a Stan Kenton-style “West Side Story” Jazz-Latin soundtrack, amid sets and props which convincingly portrayed the rough streets of New York City of the late 1950s. While in Montgomery County, the cast and crew are drawn heavily from the University of Maryland, College Park, community as well.      

Another opportunity, this one for high school youth, presents itself in Act Two at Levine Pre-Professional theatre at Arena Stage’s Mead Center for American Theater. Students from the District, Maryland and Virginia perform in such productions as “Oklahoma,” “Chicago,” and other musicals. Students work with seasoned veterans of theatre and perform complete with orchestra and professional lighting and staging. The performance I saw of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” in the spring was awe-inspiring, thanks to both the professional elements as well as the enthusiasm of a talented group of young performers and technicians.    

We would be remiss not to bring attention to “Aladdin, Jr.” with “Kid’s Cabaret,” currently being performed at Laurel Mills Playhouse.  

We are indeed fortunate to have young people in our area so involved in the art of theatre in so many area venues!

“Dinner” plays through August 25 by the 4615 Theatre Company at The Highwood Theatre Silver Spring, Maryland.

Last modified onWednesday, 08 August 2018 14:44
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