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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Omnium-Gatherum at ACT Theatre

Also see David's review of Baby

Not the first, and (frighteningly) probably not the worst post 9/11 comedy-dramas Omnium-Gatherum - now at ACT, and concurrently/recently running in several different U.S. productions including off-Broadway - is ninety-minutes of pretension, made more palatable by an expert cast and production.

Playwrights Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros give us an assemblage of thinly veiled versions of diverse contemporary figures, including Martha Stewart, Christopher Hitchens, and Tom Clancy. The hostess, here named Suzie (Marianne Owen), is presiding over the dinner party from (and possibly located in) hell, with a cross-section of stereotypical types: compassionate Arab scholar Khalid (Joseph Kamal); a blustering right-wing novelist, Roger (Eddie Levi Lee); Julia (Cynthia Jones), a somewhat flighty African-American minister; New York City firefighter, Jeff (David Drummond); Lydia (Mari Nelson), a confrontational vegan feminist with a baby on the way; vituperative and progressively drunker British journalist Terence (Kent Broadhurst); and for a startling dessert, a Muslim terrorist (Dennis Mosley).

Rebeck and Gersten-Vassilaros do get off some very funny lines, and anyone who has ever been at a dinner party where too much wine was flowing amidst too much contention in the air will identify with the clashes and outbursts they devise amongst the dinner guests. But, with so few likable characters and the authors' desperate need to make this play important, it becomes a very wearing evening in which, as Noel Coward once wrote, "Ninety minutes is a long, long time." I couldn't help reflecting that, in contrast, Tony Kushner's four-hour Homebody/Kabul, recently at Intiman, went by in a flash despite its 4-hour running time.

Jon Jory's smart and smooth direction of an ideal cast almost makes up for the script's shortcomings. Owen sparkles in what may be a career high performance as the smug Suzie, playing her as your worst nightmare of urban pretentiousness ("Bread is out!" she snaps when one guest asks for some). Broadhurst makes the most of his character's wicked tongue, and Kamal makes his character a likable and welcome bastion of decency. Levi-Lee is pitch-perfect pompous as the Clancy surrogate, and Cynthia Jones has the funniest turn of the evening when her character delivers a hilarious, monumentally awful rendition of Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All." Only a singer as good as Jones actually is could do bad vocalizing so brilliantly. Drummond is admirable in his big speech about his fireman trying to save people in the World Trade Center holocaust, though the speech seems to have been cribbed from "The Guys."

Another strong attribute of this production is Robert Dahlstrom's set, on which a barely perceptibly moving turntable moves the actors, seated throughout 90% of the show at a circular dining table, into view of all the actors in the Allen's in-the-round space. No quibbles with Greg Sullivan's lights, Marcia Dixcy Jory's costumes or Eric Chappelle's sound either. Indeed, everyone at ACT has made this empty table of a play appear as if it were a sumptuous feast.

Omnium-Gatherum runs at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., in Seattle, through Nov. 2. For more information call (206) 292-7676 or visit ACT on-line at www.acttheatre.org.




- David-Edward Hughes



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