Ex’s ‘Dinner’ Is Well Worth The Invitation

Mariah S. Evarts

Paige (Renée L. Pastel ’09) throws a dinner party in honor of her husband Lars (Arlo D. Hill ’08) to celebrate the success of his book in “Dinner.”

Even under the best of circumstances, parties can turn awkward. If the guest list consists of mentally unbalanced people in failing or failed marriages, seething with personal and professional jealousy, and the hostess is determined to open every emotional wound in the room, the result is less awkward and more cataclysmic. That, in a nutshell, is Moira Buffini’s “Dinner,” directed by Catherine “Calla” Videt ’08 and produced by Ben M. Poppel ’09, which is playing at the Loeb Ex through next Saturday, Nov. 4.

The play unfolds nearly in real time, depicting the course of a dinner party thrown by Paige (Renée L. Pastel ’09) in honor of her husband Lars (Arlo D. Hill ’08) and the success of his philosophical self-help book. Their conversation starts out icy and is not improved by the arrival of Lars’s ex-lover Wynne (Julia L. Renaud ’09), whose husband has dumped her earlier that day, and the newlywed couple Hal (Simon N. Nicholas ’07) and Sian (Catrin M. Lloyd-Bollard ’08).

Paige—with the help of a silent and frighteningly obedient waiter chillingly played by Jeremy R. Steinemann ’08—has engineered a bizarre evening for the group, starting with barely-concealed hostility and escalating into histrionics and violence, hitting on issues of sex and class along the way. Tensions are not relieved by the appearance of Mike (Rory Kulz ’08), a passerby stranded by fog and a van crash, who rapidly joins in the fray.

The action starts at a believable pitch and rapidly spirals into exaggeration and caricature. For the most part, this works, as it is delivered with an acid wit and cynicism that meshes nicely with the characters’ disintegration, giving the play something of a train-wreck appeal of watching them dig themselves deeper and deeper into an emotional pit.

All of the actors (save Steinemann, who maintains a glacial calm throughout) go off the deep end with aplomb. Especially good are Lloyd-Bollard, as the perpetually-angry newscaster Sian, and Renaud, as the flighty and emotionally fragile artist Wynne.

When the play aims for genuine pathos, however, it falls a bit flat, since the characters have long since gone beyond the realm of realistic emotions and into the heightened world of satire. The audience is asked to shift from gawking to sympathizing a little too quickly. Videt and the actors do the best they can with this hairpin turn, but can’t save it from being a touch jarring. The set, designed by Courtney E. Thompson ’09, consists primarily of a table and chairs, which the characters forcefully rearrange when agitated. Interestingly, the table is trapezoidal to give it forced perspective, a trick that is also being used on the Mainstage in “The Marriage of Bette and Boo.” The set becomes increasingly littered with an assortment of objects that I would venture to guess comprise one of the more unusual prop lists in Ex history—including bottles for cleaning supplies, shoes, lobsters, a baby carriage, and a cabbage, adding to the general sense of hysteria.

Hysterical is a good general descriptor for “Dinner.” At root, the play is 90 minutes of people inflicting emotional carnage on each other, which, although at times extremely uncomfortable, makes for an entertaining show. It’s difficult to care more for the characters than they do for each other, but as a spectator sport, the sparring of “Dinner” is worth inviting yourself to.

—Reviewer Elisabeth J. Bloomberg can be reached at