The Dinner (Upstage Productions) 2012 Toronto Fringe Review

During the opening scene of The Dinner, a production by Upstage Productions as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival, as the guests arrived two by two, I kept thinking: the tension’s so thick a bomb’s going to go off.

And then the first bomb was dropped. And then the second. And while that famous Chekov quote has it that if there’s a loaded gun on stage it’ll go off, there was no gun here.

This was a dinner, right. And no one said it would be a party. And nobody holds dinner parties anymore: they’re too loaded.

Which is what this drawing room production makes clear. Open your mouth – really – and you never know what might happen. Old high school friends coming together for Thanksgiving dinner can be a recipe for disaster. And remember, there’s no limit to the number of bombs.

In an age of texting we avoid white elephants as much as we avoid one another. We seldom come together for intimate gatherings (especially with high school buddies – new friends are safer). And we definitely stay away from Pandora’s boxes.

So by the time Ronny (Jason Jazrawy) says, “Do you want to know what the real issue is?” the audience is living along with the fast-paced drama and knows the real issues are so many and so varied. The larger question becomes: is there anyone who can get past all the issues to something more authentic?

While the show was a tad slow to take off, and there was some stumbling with character misnamings, the slick, Soulpepper-like production under the mentorship of Sky Gilbert and director Jordan Merkur, had the audience engaged and laughing from start to finish, even though at times none of it was actually a laughing matter.

Kirstin Hinton’s passionate delivery of her personal bomb was one of the most touching moments in the play, but then – she had to wait through the entire production to deliver it. The rest of Upstage Productions’s marquee cast (including Jeff Madden and Farah Merani), played it strong, but it should be interesting to watch their development as they gel through the Fringe run.

In true Toronto form, and befitting the week after Pride, it’s the token gay couple that has it all together. Yes, another bomb.

Details

The Dinner plays at Factory Theatre Mainspace, 125 Bathurst St.

– Show times: July 4 – 8:15 PM, July 7 – 5:15 PM, July 9 – 2:45 PM, July 10 – 6:30 PM, July 11 – 5:15 PM, July 13 – 12:00 PM, July 15 – 7:00 PM

– All individual Fringe tickets are $10 ($5 for FringeKids) at the door (cash only).

– Advance tickets ($11 including service charge) are available online at www.fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062, or in person at The Randolph Centre for the Arts, 736 Bathurst Street.

Value packs are available for anyone planning to see at least 5 shows.

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