Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Art of Dining by Tina Howe

Joey Marie Urbina and Billy Budinich

by Joe Straw

I always thought The Art of Dining would play better if meals were not part of the presentation.  The actors would act the meal and drink presented to them.

With food, the play becomes an added cost and a logistic burden with the cooking, presenting, discarding and then the cleaning up.

I’ve actually seen this done (sans eatables) successfully at a ballet and from a scene at A Noise Within Theatre in Pasadena.  – Narrator.

Cal (Billy Budinich) and Ellen (Joey Marie Urbina) are the perfect couple. Well on the outside it appears so.  She is beautiful and he is handsome and they have a lovely restaurant with everything so perfect, the exquisite dinnerware resting on three white tablecloths, candles and other table appointments quietly wait for diners that are expected to come this night.   

The Golden Carousel horse welcomes all patrons who venture into their small but quaint restaurant gently nestled in a renovate townhouse on the New Jersey Shore.

But, things aren’t always what they appear starting with the disappearing food.  And then there’s Cal overbooking every night to capacity and beyond.   And secretly Ellen is a disgruntled worker chef who would rather not cook that much.  No, that’s not right, she would rather not cook for 30 diners when 7 for the night might be just enough.

And still Cal books reservations over the telephone like there’s no tomorrow.  Where else will he get the money to payback the  $75,000.00 loan if it’s not his little overworked wife cooking her heart out?

Love, love, love.

The doorbell rings. Cal stands in front of a mirror making sure that every fiber of his being is perfect before he opens the door. Now presentable, he is engulfed in costume as the maître de and in turn, a willing participant to be their servant and always at their beck and call. Hannah (Lucy Walsh) and Paul Galt (Chad Doreck) are then received by Cal in a most impressive manner.  

Lucy Walsh and Chad Doreck

Hannah and Paul, an enchanting if not ostentatious couple, have more idiosyncrasies than humanly possible.  They can hardly believe they are, once again, engaged in a night of fine dinning.    In presentation they are impeccable and have an unquenchable desire of every thing fine and decadent, but for the moment their feelings are decidedly pointed on the dining experience. And that experience is a foretaste of an iniquitous seduction so sublime and so subliminal that it is a precursor to the ineffable ecstasies that awaits them in the privacy of their own home.

Kasia Pilewicz and Haile D'Alan

Elizabeth Barrow Colt (Kasia Pilewicz), a short story writer, and a sentient being arrives without her glasses and is, fundamentally, as blind as a bat. She is helped by Cal who has trouble taking her coat and then proceeds to empty the entire contents of pencils and notebooks from her purse onto the floor, twice. Tonight she is waiting, longing to meet a publisher, her publisher Cal (Haile D’Alan) if she can get beyond the eating part of the meal.  

L - R Samiyah Swann, Leana Chavez and Nancy Vivar

After a day of shopping three lovely enchantresses Herrick Simmons (Leana Chavez), Tony Stassio (Samiyah Swann) and Nessa Vox (Nancy Vivar) swarm the lobby, shopping bags and all.  All three are wearing gold dresses and enjoy their meals in a strepitous manner of indescribable delight.    

Jamaica Moon Prods and the The GGC Players present The Art of Dining by Tina Howe directed by Gloria Gifford, and produced by Chad Doreck, Jade Ramirez Warner, and Leana Chavez through December 8, 2019.

The Art of Dining directed by Gloria Gifford is deliciously triumphant and delectable too throughout the course of the dining night. The production is filled with extreme touches of brilliance, of manner, and of style. There are some very fine bits of idiosyncrasies beyond the dialogue, and to top it off the characters are wonderfully diverse.

Sitting on the purple chairs was just - genius!

But, I have some observations.  If you are interested in going to see this production don’t read further.

Joey Marie Urbina fits the role of Ellen and does some remarkable work in establishing her abilities in the kitchen and her relationship with her husband. She discovers something she really didn’t know about her partner and the night is almost destroyed for not only the restaurant but also her relationship with her husband. That said, the tears of that moment were not convincing possibly because her actions are not extreme. Still, Urbina has a strong presence and is also a wonderful actor to watch.  

Billy Budinich plays Cal. Cal works in the kitchen, and in the restaurant.  Budinich really has to find something to make the coat and pencil scene work. Cal worries about every aspect of the job.  One wrong move with his insatiable cravings and the restaurant could come crumbling down.  But, perfection is something he cannot control, especially with this crowd. That said, Budinich handles the role marvelously and manages to get a lot of laughs during the course of the night.    

Kasia Pilewicz is Elizabeth Barrow Colt and for the most part is fine in the role. But, she has to make a choice to find a stronger objective for this character, which will lead her to more creative actions on stage. First and foremost she has a fear of eating and we should see that the moment she walks into the diner. Instead we get funny bits without the conflict. And these are the things she has to hide in order to have a successful relationship with her would be publisher. Adding an inquisitive disposition to her character would help her find more layers to her way.

Haile D’Alan is successful as David Osslow, a publisher.  Well maybe a successful publisher, or maybe not.  Truth be told, he hasn’t had a hit since, never.  He needs this client and what a better way than to ply her with food, at the best obscure restaurant in town.  But, it’s not working out, she does not like the food, and maybe not him, and he is on the verge of loosing this client because she is rambling (a good rambling) on about her life growing up. D’Alan has to push harder for a stronger objective, with creative choices that guide him to his objective.  He must win over the short story writer no matter the cost.

Lucy Walsh is terrific as Hannah Galt - a silly and seductive partner. A woman who wants the best for her husband, but falls constantly in a trap of not doing the right thing. The work from Walsh is very playful, creative, and everything about her performance just works.  In short, it is an excellent job.

Chad Doreck is exceptional as Paul Galt.  He is a man on a mission for the perfect dining experience. When things don’t go his way, he points out his companion’s faults and rights her wrong. Doreck has an infectious smile and is extraordinary in this role.

Leana Chavez as Herrick Simmons throws in some choice Spanish dialogue during the course of the meal. Samiyah Swann is also charming in the role of Tony Stassio, as well as Nancy Vivar as Nessa Vox. This table was a little confusing.  All three were wearing gold dresses.  One would suppose they bought them on their shopping spree but little is made about their attire. They fight about everything, the pronunciation of the drink, and the order.  They screech in delight, as well as screech in fight and at times it is hard to follow what the fuss is all about.  Clearly, one woman has a problem with pronunciation and remembering what she has ordered.  One wonders if it’s because that she noticeably doesn’t remember or likes the other ladies food.  The women have a history and the actors must use that history to clean up the moments, their relationship, and define those moments by finding the right touches that work.

Tina Howe’s The Art of Dining was first presented December 1979 at the Public Theatre in New York.  The west coast premier was produced by Spectator 442 and Joe Straw at the Fig Tree Theatre in 1983.

Other member of the cast who did not perform on the night I was there are as follows:
Cal – Keith Walker, Chris Jones, Christian Maltez
Ellen – Kelly Musselwhite
Paul Galt – Danny Siegel, Dan White, Joshua Farmer
Hanna Galt – Keturah Hamilton, Cynthia San Luis, Abigail Kochunas
Elizabeth Barrow Colt – Sabrina Won, Justine Estrada
David Osslow – Benito Paje, Joe Filippone
Herrick Simmons, Tony Stasio & Nessa Vox – Jade Ramirez Warner, Raven Bowens, Irene Gerakas, Amber Dancy, Danielle Abraham, Gloria Alvizar, Rosa Frausto

Run! Run! And take a chef because there will be a lot of things to discuss on your way home.

Member of the crew are as follows:

Set Design – Gloria Gifford, Keturah Hamilton & Lucy Walsh
Lighting Technician – Teagan Wilson
Properties – Michael Barker
Show Publicist – Philip Sokoloff
Costumes – Gloria Gifford, Lucy Walsh
Hair/Makeup – Kasia Pilewicz
House Manager – Tahlia McCollum
Videographer – Gay Hauser Price
Photographer – Mathew Caine

RESERVATIONS: (800) 838-3006.


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