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The perfect dinner party
for a photo shoot: the contrived
guest list to insure lively intellectual discussion, the raw feelings in the aftermath of
the attack on the World Trade Center, exquisitely presented food, and a fiery finish.
These are the ingredients Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros have mixed
together in Omnium Gatherum, which, literally translated, means a gathering of
Many of the characters are loosely based on recognizable public figures with sharply differing opinions. It is a combination that would seem to be more likely to occur on a Sunday morning TV debate program than in a home. However the hostess in this case is Suzie (Ellen Greer), think Martha Stewart, whose focus is on the perfection of all that is served and the artificial combination of people she has brought to the table. She flutters about with elaborate explanations of the dishes her staff is serving and exclamations about how debate makes a dinner party, seemingly oblivious to the genuine acrimony growing at her table. Emotionally she connects with no one. She has confused a dinner party with life.
Terrance (William Dennis Hunt) is a combination of Christopher Hitchens and Gore Vidal. As he drinks himself to near oblivion he cynically pontificates from a rarified social and intellectual plateau, more concerned with hearing himself than actually convincing anyone else.
Terrences main sparing partners are Khalid (Navid Negahban) and Roger (Alan Blumenfeld). Khalid is the polished Palestinian pundit, a la Edward Said: elegantly dressed, extremely articulate, and driven by a mission to pedantically defend the Palestinian point of view of the world down to the most minute detail. Roger, on the other hand, is the somewhat sloppy popular novelist a Jewish Tom Clancey who justifies his bombastic opinions on the basis of his success, and on the fact that in one of his popular novels he had written a scenario similar to 9/11.
Julia (Earnestine Phillips), a vegan, ardent feminist, and defender of victims rights, is so pure in her New Age dietary beliefs she can hardly eat any of the pretentious dishes that are served. Suzie does not seem capable of whipping up something suitable which might spoil the symmetry of her table. Julias own notion of empathy, when
Throughout the dinner party Suzie who barely sits down in her role as the hostess twitters about a surprise for all the lovely people at her table. The surprise turns the tide of the dinner party and the thoughts of the thoroughly engaged audience. So suited to her role as Suzie, Ellen Greer seems to have channeled Martha Stewart, oozing authority and giving weight to the frivolous. William Dennis Hunt stands out as the picture of posturing intellectual self-importance. Unfortunately the writing of the last ten minutes which follow the surprise is not quite as strong as the intermissionless hour and twenty minutes of tightly written dialogue which came before. It does, however, serve to insure that the gravitas is not overwhelmed by the cleverness which preceded it.
Played under the oaks at the Theatricum Botanicum, the spare set, like a skilled artists sketch, simply conveys the elegance that would be Suzies dining room and the trees which dangled a crystal chandelier were like a cathedral ceiling. Unfortunately there is no credit for the for set designer.
Omnium Gatherum was written immediately after the 9/11 attacks. The two playwrights, sickened by the medias simplistic analysis and messages such as Go shop, wrote it as a means of getting to a more intellectual understanding of what had happened. They have said, This is what it feels like to live in
July 31, 2006 - Karen Weinstein