There’s always a catch when a group of grad-school liberals invites you to their dinner party, or so Dan Rosen’s The Last Supper (currently playing at the Red Room) will have you believing. This play, based on the movie Rosen wrote which was released in 1995, adapts well for the stage and under Akia Squitieri’s direction it doesn’t lose any of the meat that the original film dished up.
The Last Supper (the movie) wasn’t a box office smash, but seeing it on the smaller stage it’s easy to see why – this story was meant to start its life off as a play and perhaps become a movie later on, not the other way around. With thoughtful platforms, weighty discussions and deeply ponderous moments, not to mention strong character evolutions, this story is meant to be played out in front of an audience. It’s also a heck of a lot funnier in person – and it’s the humor which acts as the spoon full of sugar which helps the poison go down.
I tend to shy away from family dinners that may result in loud, antagonistic, polarized debates on the situations of the world. The way I see it, the dinner table is a place to have a nice meal, and if you want to have a rousing discussion that may result in physical violence, take it to the living room while I finish up dessert, thanks very much.
The grad students in this small Iowa town feel exactly the opposite.
So, who are these grad students anyway? On the surface, they’re just a bunch of 20somethings who like to debate over veggie potluck at the close of each week. We meet them on their appointed night as they begin the ritual of dinner: Jude (played by Nicole Howard or Becky Sterling Rygg depending on which cast you see), Pete (David Anthony or Jeff Ronan), Paulie (Lindsay Beecher/Anastasia D. Peterson), Mark (Michael Bernardi/Ariel Heller), and Luke (J.L. Reed /Barry Kennedy, Jr.) who proceed to invite Zach (Joe Beaudin / Erik Gullberg) to have dinner with them after he helps Pete with his car. To their surprise (and open-mouthed horror) Zach turns out to be an unapologetic racist and anti-Semite. Sure, he’s a true blue American who served in Desert Storm, but the toxic rant he kicks up is as hard to swallow as a handful of desert sand.
Obviously there’s only one thing to do when your dinner guest gets rude – kill him. Well, of course, the murder isn’t premeditated, but it’s certainly post-meditated (if there is such a thing) and the grads act as judge and jury – ruling it a justifiable homicide. After all, good ole boy Zach wasn’t really benefiting society, was he?
And so begins a little experiment on the part of these potluck pals – to only invite extreme right-wings to dinner and see if polite debate is enough to change the mind of a potential (to their mind) Hitler or Stalin. If their narrow minded dinner guest leaves with a better view of the world, then they’ve done their job and everyone had a delicious, healthy Sunday Dinner. If, on the other hand, the unsuspecting guest staunchly remains faithful to their world views they get treated to a little swig of poisoned wine. Their bodies are then promptly disposed of under the tomato plants in the garden with no one the wiser and only a harvest of gorgeous tomatoes to indicate that there’s something giving the soil back there a little extra kick.
The message is meant to be delivered tongue-in-cheek, and for all the intelligence of the grads there’s still a note of farce to their actions. In fact, as egregious as some of their guests’ opinions and ideals seem to be (a priest who believes AIDS is a punishment for homosexuality, a young anti-choice activist), there’s a gleeful spark that runs round the table as the group, through silent declaration, mark their next victim and hand them their lethal libation.
Eventually the king of all hate-speakers Norman Arbuthnot (Christopher Enright /Leal Vona) – A Limbaugh-patterned Yakker who delivers darts of hate with a wink and a smile so bright you can hear the gleam – darkens their door and the group gets their chance to rid the world of a true – in their eyes – criminal. When Arbuthnot comes off as more likeable than loathsome the group is left with a very interesting decision on their hands. How the ending plays out will surprise you.
The Last Supper ‘s rotating cast, is rounded out by Alexia Tate, Anthony Mead, April E. Bennett, Ben Friesen, Jessica Ritacco, Larry Gutman, Mariana Guillen, Matt Riker, Michael Jones, Michael McManus, Patrick J. Egan and Susan Burns.
Featuring an original music score by film composer & Blue Man Group performer Christopher Bowen the scene changes – a little clunky to sit through (after all, they must set and re-set the table in real time) passes far more enjoyably, and the playful music goes a long way to underscore the satirical nature of the play.
While some of the ideas put forth may be a little hard to swallow, this dinner has enough courses to make sure you leave fully satisfied.
~~~The Last Supper
Horse Trade Theater Group and Rising Sun Performance Company
Red Room, 85 E. Fourth St., NYC.
Running until Aug. 25. on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. For tickets call (212) 868-4444 or go to www.smarttix.com.