What's So Funny?

The Dinner Party has a hard time deciding whether it's farce or tragedy

Like Mastro, the rest of the cast is adept at serving the play's comedic elements, but their characterizations seem to be drawn from many different plays. As Claude, Greg Mullavey, a veteran of several Neil Simon plays, knows how to sell a joke, and many of his lines sound more at home on the Catskills comedy circuit than on the Champs Élysées. As his counterpart, Mariette, Elizabeth Heflin offers less shtick and more substance overall, while Catherine Lloyd Burns plays Albert's ex, Yvonne, as an adenoidal geek. Burns's take fits early in the production, but her cartoonish Yvonne isn't credible when all the heart-rending revelations show up. She's not alone. It's at that point that the show stops dead in its tracks, and Rando seems at a complete loss as to what to do about it. He doesn't even bother with much staging in the late going. The characters end up lounging around on the furniture as, one by one, each stands up to deliver soul-searching monologues.

This play finally comes down to a showdown between Gabrielle and Andre, a long-delayed and very serious confrontation. Simon has written this relationship as a sexually explosive liaison that was so consuming, the relationship lacked substance or comfort. In Andre and Gabrielle, the playwright has the makings of a potent, powerful dramatic conflict. This pair is reminiscent of the feuding fairies Oberon and Titania from A Midsummer Night's Dream and the bittersweet relationship of Alceste and Celimene in Molière's The Misanthrope, other plays about lovers who long for but can't stand each other. Certainly, Meg Foster delivers her end of this equation; her Gabrielle slinks and slithers around Andre like a jungle cat in heat. But Steve Vinovich's stolid, tough-guy take on Andre fails to give much sense of the lust that is discussed in detail in the dialogue. As Vinovich plays Andre, there isn't a lot of fire left in this guy. It feels as though Lee Iacocca wandered into Les Liaisons Dangereuses. There's only one moment when it looks as if he might waiver: He suddenly grabs her and plants a soul-sucking kiss on her that heats up the stage. But one moment does not a play make.

For the couples at The Dinner Party, the evening couldn't get much worse
For the couples at The Dinner Party, the evening couldn't get much worse

Details

Through November 25. Call 305-442-4000.
Coconut Grove Playhouse, 3500 Main Hwy, Coconut Grove

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It's easy to slam Simon for not writing another Odd Couple here, and many critics have done so. This is not a "Neil Simon comedy," however. This is a drama with humor. But everyone -- writer, director, cast, the PR people -- is setting up too many expectations here. The laughs don't carry the show. The plot isn't funny; the situation isn't funny. What if this were played seriously? What if the laughs came out of the situation rather than slammed home in quotes? But maybe that wouldn't sell. Maybe Simon wouldn't allow it. Maybe people wouldn't come. And maybe the playhouse, struggling to weather all those tough breaks, can't risk challenging its core audience. That's the real world of play production these days, even without the added problems of recession and terrorism. And that's no laughing matter.

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