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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Place Setting

But there it is — I admit there's been damage done here, obviously. I'm admitting responsibility.—Greg
Someday someone will have to explain to me why people decided that that was such a big deal.— Lenny

It is New Years Eve 1999. Families and friends are gathered to celebrate the end on one millennium and the start of another. The big question on most everyone's mind is not necessarily whether computers will malfunction, but whether their clock radio, TV, or automatic coffee maker will freak out.

In Jack Canfora's cleverly constructed and smartly written domestic comedy/drama Place Setting, the lives of three couples in their 30 somethings are more inclined to go awry than the technology around them. Canfora's characters have been variously positioned to segue into the morning after the night before with a maximum of discomfort, stress and anxiety.

Andrea (Carol Todd) and Greg (Jack Cantora, yes, the play's author) are throwing a New Years Eve dinner party in their suburban home to welcome in the New Year. Andrea has worked frenetically to prepare an elegant dinner for her slightly younger sister Laura (Kristen Moser), Greg's slightly older brother Lenny (David Bishins) and their respective dates. The meal has been a success. But it doesn't take long for Laura's beau Richard (Peter Macklin) to begin displaying his true colors as an intolerably condescending, smug and obnoxious German documentary film maker ("Suburbia. It does things to people. They should hang a sign outside of the Lincoln tunnel — Welcome to New Jersey — suicide is a technicality").

It seems that Laura, an emotionally volatile woman, has a history of picking the wrong man. Then there is picking the wrong women issue. It only takes a few minutes alone with Greg in the kitchen for Lenny's absolutely gorgeous girl friend Charlotte (Guenia Lemos) to lust after her host, whose carnal interest in her is also apparently rife with history.

Of course, Andrea's attempt to run a smooth, convivial and conflict free dinner party for those closest and dearest to her is bound to run amok considering that she has previously discovered an incriminating letter written by her husband to Charlotte and now feels obliged to share it with Lenny. Lenny, however, has already asked Charlotte to marry him. There is a bit of the Alan Ayckbourne style afoot as the convolutions of the evening and following morning becomes springboards for a potential marital breakup and grievous romantic betrayals.

Richard's disdain for the others and his growing disaffection for Laura escalate with the same intensity as does Charlotte's attempt to get Greg to leave his wife. It wouldn't be cricket to reveal more of the plot, except to say that the plot is fueled by Andrea's announcement that she is going to have a baby, Laura's inclination to go out and get a tattoo and also be more than a sister-in-law to Greg, and Lenny's revelation that his fiancée has a history (there's that word again). The theme could be summed up as "you always hurt the one you love."

Canfora, who skillfully embraces both acting and writing, may not leave any of the characters unscarred or unscathed, but we are certainly kept alert and empathetic to their quandaries. This is especially true of Andrea, as played with stoic resolve by Todd. Canfora credibly expresses Greg's notable lack of character in the face of his gullibility. Bishins is excellent as the humiliated but love-sick Lenny. Moser makes the most of her role as the unsettled Laura. As Richard, Macklin achieves his goal to be reviled and conversely Lemos, as Charlotte, has no competition when it comes to being magnetically seductive.

Director Evan Bergman, whose most recent credit is Off Broadway's Machiavelli, keeps a firm grip on the slender threads that bridge the interplay between the comical and the poignant as well as on the well executed timing of exiting and re-entering characters that lose little time exposing their transparency as well as their transgressions. Designer Jessica Parks has designed the kitchen area so that the properties don't get in the way of the improprieties. This world premiere may not have the dramatic heft necessary for the Big Apple, but it is sure to please the audiences at the New Jersey Rep. and other regional theaters.


Place Setting
  By Jack Canfora
  Directed by Evan Bergman
Cast: Carol Todd, Jack Canfora, Kristen Moser, Peter Macklin, David Bishins, Guenia Lemos
  Scenic Design & Properties: Jessica Parks
  Costume Design: Patricia E. Doherty
  Lighting Design: Jill Nable
  Sound Design: Jessica Paz
  Technical Director: Quinn K. Stone
  Fight Choreographer: Brad Lemons
  New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ.
  Running Time: 2 hours including 15 minute intermission
  From May 31 through June 24, 2007
  Tickets: $35 with discounts for seniors, groups, students (18 — 25)
  Performances: Thursday, Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 3 PM & 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM.
  Reviewed by Simon Saltzman on June 2nd
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