Dining Delivers Deliciously

One wouldn’t think that the Royal Tyler Theater could equal the spectacle of last season’s show, Metamorphosis, whose set featured a pool set into the stage. But with The Art of Dining, whose action takes place in a functioning kitchen, it has. The stage has been transformed into a working restaurant, in which the actors cook, serve, and consume a meal.

They manage to perform too, of course, and deliver all the humor of this very amusing play, set in the thirties, about food and everything that loaded subject evokes. The play opens with a difficult passage between the couple who own the restaurant. Seated at one of the tables, sampling deserts, they sustain a full five minutes of conversation in moans. But while the husbands’ express his pleasure at the taste, the wifes’ express her insecurity in her work. They moan at cross purposes, and though it’s understandable for these expressions to be misinterpreted, throughout the play it’s as if the characters were communicating in moans, so rarely do they reach each other. As director Sarah E. Carlton points out in her program note, The Art of Dining is a play about appetite, and such miscommunication suggests it! ‘s about a craving formore than food.

The pain of divided relationships and lonely apprehension is always portrayed with a wicked humor, however, as lines spoken at a frantic pace andsimultaneous to a rush of dialogue from the opposite character illustrate comically the characters’ desperate and clumsy attempts to connect.

Inflammatory lines accelerate quickly into monologues of anguish or ecstasy in efforts to drown out the other and make the self heard. The play is episodic, action jumping from one insular group to the next, with a nervous energy that seems to mimic the anxiety that in some way drives all the characters. For beneath its facetious surface, the play, like the society titters and trendy gestures that manner its characters, reveals a clawing insecurity and explores a connection between appetite and anxiety.

Even the very funny script couldn’t always disguise the difficulty o! f this subject-now and then in the audience laughter died down as watching the actors writhe onstage in humiliation and shame became painful. And the paradox that physical nourishment triggers questions about their entitlement to existence is no mistake.

As the tension mounts, disputes erupt over food, drinks spill over dresses, forks clatter to the floor. But of course none of these fights is really about who ordered the bass or whether the husband had a second desert at lunch; theyare about the anxiety that has brought the diners to near-crisis. Who knew thatin a cut of veal could be invested the shame of being fat, the memory of a self-destructive mother, or the anguish of lost love? And indeed, such surprises constitute the genius of The Art of Dining.

Nevertheless, the play doesn’t lack for hilarious moments. All the characters manage to speak their difficult lines with clarity and humor. The first party to be seated, a glamorous couple, makes menu perusal into a kind of foreplay.

Sophomore Ariel Kiley, playing the wife, creates many delightful moments with a flamboyant performance style that matches her character, who, in all its Daisy Buchanan-like fragility and loveliness, sparkled as much as Kiley’s dress. She ogles at the restaurant dcor and the waiter with equal infatuation, lovingly examines her glittering rocks, and succumbs to panic over the order.

The entrance of her foil, a young writer played inimitably by Kate Bosley, is hilarious and pathetic as a young woman of debilitating shyness awaits her date with an editor. Rueful, apologetic, reeling in disastrous myopic confusion, she nonetheless captures the ultimately life-affirming soul of the play as she observes of the significance of the enflamed crepes suzettes, served to all thediners, making the characters mingle in the center of the room, “It’s like the beginning of time, when men (sic) gathered around the camp fire to stay warm, sent out their spirits, and partook of one feast.”

The Royal Tyler Theatre presents The Art of Dining, directed by Sarah E.Carleton, through (name date). Performances are at 7:30 pm Wednesday through Saturday, with 2:00 pm matinees on the weekend. The design team includes Jeff Modereger (set), John B. Forbes (lighting), Maura M. Neff (stage management), Martin A. Thaler (costumes), and Eric Vanarsdale (sound).