In The Dinner Party three divorced couples are brought together. One hundred minutes of arguments, accusations, and revelations later two of the couples appear to have a chance at reconciliation.
In a New York Times interview last Sunday, Neil Simon commented that with The Dinner Party, which opened last night at the Music Box Theatre, he was trying to write a play very different from anything he had done before, and that he "had the concept of creating a farce up to a certain point, and then instead of continuing the farce, to make a turn to where it becomes quite serious. [He] wanted to break the concept that farces can never get real, even for a minute."
Interesting idea that, though apparently not a good idea.
Without question Mr. Simon has achieved his goal, for The Dinner Party is neither farce, broad comedy, or straight drama with a few redeeming laughs. In fact, what it actually is is anyone's guess. What it emphatically is not is an entertaining evening at the theatre.
Even the dream cast of Henry Winkler, John Ritter, Len Cariou, Penny Fuller, Veanne Cox, and Jan Maxwell - six performers who have proven themselves adept at both comic and dramatic roles on many other occasions - seem in turns bewildered, unsure, awkward, and uncomfortable trying to make sense of and present a cogent and unified approach to this play. (Certainly they appear to have received little or no help from John Rando, the director.) Being the pros that they are, they brazen it out, resulting in a few good laughs early in this intermissionless show. But even this amusing, blatant audacity, which informs the first hour of the performance, wears thin and disappears well before the final curtain.
One has the feeling that had Mr. Simon written an honest to goodness farce, with no attempt at seriousness, we would be celebrating one of the finest and funniest new plays of the season. Conversely, had Mr. Simon treated the same characters and plot in a completely somber dramatic manner, we believe we would be applauding a significant new play from a serious playwright. It's the mix of the two genres that just doesn't work.
John Lee Beatty's elegant set and Jane Greenwood's cleverly appropriate costumes, while superb, don't offer much in compensation for the rest of the evening. Jon Gottlieb's sound design is erratic.
Neil Simon's The Dinner Party Cast: Henry Winkler, John Ritter, Len Cariou, Penny Fuller, Veanne Cox, Jan Maxwell. Directed by John Rando. Scenic design by John Lee Beatty. Costume design by Jane Greenwood. Lighting design by Brian MacDevitt. Sound design by Jon Gottlieb.
Theatre: The Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue.
Running time: 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.
Schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM.
Audience: May be inappropriate for children 11 and under. Children under 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Ticket prices: $65, $45 and $20
Standing Room: Available only at the Box Office, and only when the performance is completely sold out.
Tickets online: TeleCharge
Tickets by phone: TeleCharge at (212) 239-6255, or outside the New York metro area (800) 545-2559, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Tickets in person: Box Office hours Monday through Saturday 10 AM to 8 PM, Sunday Noon to 6 PM.
Tickets by E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets by Snail mail: The Dinner Party, PO Box 998, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10108-0998.