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REVIEW: Dinner by Moira Buffini | BSSTC

Heath Ledger Theatre

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A vengeful host cooks up something dreadful for a dinner party and the guests get their just deserts; this tried and true formula for drama has been worked into more than a few scripts over the years, so it’s certainly not unfamiliar territory. So when it does get reworked, we have to take a look at just what makes a particular iteration of it memorable, unique or unusual. Moira Buffini’s take on the trope, Dinner, is most decidedly all three, and Black Swan State Theatre Company’s take on Buffini is far more palatable than the fictitious meal the play’s hostess with the grossest cooks up.

EDIT: You used to be able to read the full review on X-Press here.


It’s a consistent production that does what it says on the box; it’s strangely appealing, even though there are some dark, uncomfortable moments and bizarre twists and turns in its foggy universe. The cast each turn out solid performances, blending into a well-tuned septet on their turntable set. Director Kate Cherry has brought in Tasma Walton to lead the evening as Paige, the host, and though she is relatively small and slight, her wild red evening dress designed by Alvin Fernandez goes a long way to amplify her visual and physical presence. Her outward belies a fierce, seething lioness within, and from the start, there is no doubt that she intends to inflict maximum damage on her guests.

Paige’s husband Lars (Steve Turner) and his old college “friend” Wynne (Alison Van Reeken) are doomed from the start, and in many ways are easy prey for Walton’s little spitfire of a character. Van Reeken has a tough job of playing the other woman, especially given her character’s deliberately exaggerated views and dialogue, but she pulls through very strongly. She’s given Wynne a goofy physicality and a loveable obliviousness that offsets Paige’s tyranny. Greg McNeill does the same on the men’s side, though his character Hal is somewhat less of a target for the relentlessly spiteful hostess; his personal hell lies with his steely wife Sian (Rebecca Davis), whose aloofness reveals itself to be a cover-up. Stuart Halusz’s working-class Mike provides the outsider’s perspective, and helps to expose these self-deceptive guests even further.

The ways in which each member of the party reveals him or herself to the others is of course the centrepiece of this dark comedy; sometimes things become all too heavy, but Buffini breaks the tension with a funny barb. Cherry also has kept it light, allowing her cast to explore the comedy within these awkward moments of truth. If I have one complaint about some performances it’s the tendency towards fake sobbing; there’s no need (as far as I can tell) in the script to take the emotion that far, so it’s just a bit of silliness that doesn’t really do much to convince me of the characters’ inner turmoil. All the convincing we need is in Buffini’s script, the rest should come naturally.

On the technical side of things Trent Suidgeest and India Mehta can keep putting notches in their bedposts of theatrical conquests. Suidgeest’s sickly pastel lights through the wall of fog behind the set’s back wall of glass becomes a beautiful, swirling abstract painting. The revolving floor under the table is an ingenious way to create movement and variety in what could potentially be a very stagnant environment. Ash Gibson Grieg’s composition sits well during the scene changes, and aids in evoking the gothic chamber horror atmosphere. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how fond I was of India Mehta’s prop lobsters, especially the one with the swiftly radiating antenna that was placed in front of the hostess.

Although this is a Dinner of unusual fare, it’s going to hit the spot for Black Swan’s regulars.