By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Neil Simon's 31st play, The Dinner Party, now at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, skips the meal and serves up a big fat cream puff. It looks delicious, but bite in and there's just the slightest hint of filling inside an empty shell.
This two-act exercise is an airy and utterly unconvincing confection about six guests invited to a black-tie affair in a private dining room of a fancy Paris restaurant. One by one the men arrive first: Albert (Tom Lenaghen), a twitchy shlemiel whose hobby is painting portraits of cars on his rental lot; Claude (Kim Titus), a nervous bookseller; and Andre (Dennis G.W. Millegen), a snooty haberdasher who hides insecurity behind sarcastic putdowns and a permanent smirk.
Why are they there, they wonder, helping themselves to flutes of champagne? All three are middle-aged, divorced and on the make, so they fantasize about the babes they hope will occupy the three other chairs at the table. But where is their host, the lawyer who handled their splits?
He never arrives, but the women do. They're the exes (Lisa Fairchild, Sue Loncar, Cindee Mayfield), all dressed up and not too thrilled about being lured to a party where their dinner companions turn out to be much-despised former spouses. Worst yet, there's no food forthcoming and someone has locked the door. They can't leave and can't eat. Quelbummer.
What begins as Simon's shot at a frothy Molière-style farce devolves by the second act into one of those self-actualization seminars popular during the Bob and Carol and Ted and Aliceera. It's as if Simon, desperate for an idea, assigned himself to write about three divorced couples forced to confront each other after years of estrangement.
But why Paris? There's nothing French about these people or their situation. This kooky party could be in Keokuk or Cucamunga. The characters are distinctly American, and so are the jokes. "Do you like Fragonard?" Claude asks Albert, who answers, "Not before dinner, no."
Though they guzzle booze nearly nonstop for two hours (and on empty stomachs!), unfortunately no one ever gets tipsy. CTD's bubbly cast adds the much-needed fizz to the proceedings. Lenaghen and Fairchild are wonderful as the bumbling painter and chattering magpie who've married and divorced each other twice. They resolve some old hurts and by the end seem ready for a third trip to the altar.
Mayfield, one of Dallas' most versatile actresses, finally gets to play a vamp, and she makes the conniving Gabrielle, ex-wife of the clothier, evil and elegant. Loncar does gawky slapstick as Mariette, a claustrophobic novelist. But would Neil Simon really have us believe that a woman in a short, fancy dress would clamber up on a chair to dismantle an air vent or get down on all fours to stick her snout under the door?
None of it makes much sense. It's not laugh-out-loud funny enough to join the ranks of Simon's great comedies--Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys--and the flaky construction switches too abruptly from farce to ferocious arguments. Only at the end do the three flawed couples stop shouting and settle down to eat. It's the rest of us who leave The Dinner Party feeling peckish.
This splendid production marks the end of Rigby's decade-long run as the J.M. Barrie character. Now old enough to make a believable Mama Rose, Rigby is still in tiptop shape, bringing a rough-and-tumble side to Neverland's chief gypsy. With her raspy voice and gymnastic cartwheels and handstands all over John Iocavelli's storybook sets, Rigby makes Peter a wild-eyed changeling. He is, after all, a boy so wounded by his mother's abandonment that he can't stand a gentle touch. His Lost Boys likewise are kids who fell out of prams and were forgotten.
Good fairy tales are built on such tragedies. And there must be a proper villain whom the forces of good can smite. I was smitten by this production's bad guy, Captain Hook, played as a super-sexy gigolo by handsome Howard McGillin, a Broadway veteran of many a Sondheim show, plus more than three years behind the mask in Phantom of the Opera. Doing the tango with his pirates (the gayest bunch of shipmates ever to walk a plank), it's easy to see why the croc that swallowed the clock wants to crunch the captain. This Hook's one tasty morsel.
Thanks to excellent work by director Glenn Casale and choreographer Patti Colombo, Peter Pan's three acts (with two intermissions) zip by in a blur of crazy, frenetic energy. In the tribal "Ugg-a-Wugg" number pitting Tiger Lily's Indians against Peter's Lost Boys, dancers spin and leap at warp speed.