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A CurtainUp DC Review: The Dinner Partyby Susan Davidson
The common denominator (heretofore unbeknownst to them) for the three ex-couples is that the same lawyer handled their divorces. (Why he is not sliced to bits in the course of the evening remains another unanswered question.) What follows -- in sitcom-ese -- is an exposition from each divorced spouse, the story of why they shucked marriage and turned their object of affection into an ex. There are a few good jokes about the material aspects of divorce -- "she got half my money, half of the furniture and half of the dog" but no real guffaws. The millennial Neil Simon may be more introspective but he is not nearly as funny as the Neil Simon who wrote The Odd Couple.
That may very well be the problem here: Neil Simon is now very left coast, in touch with his feelings, popping television-type one-liners. Gone is the wonderful New York neurotic repartee. One character is described as "communicatively challenged." Another spouts the line, "our marriage was like a window that needed washing. You know there's something out there but you can't see what it is." Then there are the anti-marriage lines, such as marriage is "not worth it," and that married people are always cruel to one another. "Love," says one of the characters, "is a state of mind not a legal contract."
By which point some members of the audience were wondering whether they'd stepped into a brainstorming session at as greeting card company. Not that The Dinner Party is worthy of sour grapes only. Some of the performances are fine, most notably Len Cariou as the hard-nosed, well dressed businessman, and Henry Winkler as the nebbish who is not too bright. As the older, somewhat manipulative femme fatale, Penny Fuller is stunning to look at and carries the second half of this intermissionless play, with great panache.
Simon seems to be saying that marriage is difficult, painful, and never quite right and that the same can be true of divorce. Losing what was once good hurts and often what one is left with is ambivalence, which is how this reviewer feels about The Dinner Party.