Formal dinner parties are possibly the most austere and uncomfortable of social occasions. Dilemmas With Dinner, a domestic farce currently playing at South Park Theatre, shows just how awkward such affairs can get. In its local-premiere production, this 1991 play has modern sensibilities with the screwball appeal of classic 1930s comedies. Think Dinner at Eight for the high-strung post-Reagan generation.
From the start, the setup is rife with slapstick potential: Ambitious junior executive Brooke (the manic yet charming Carley Adams) wants a promotion from her oafish boss, Will (Philip Bower). A week before Will announces his choice for the position, Brooke holds an impromptu dinner at her home to ask him for the corner office she deserves. To assist her, she hires bumbling caterer Caren (played by the always pitch-perfect Danette Marie Levers). Unbeknown to Brooke, Caren just happens to be Will’s much loathed ex-daughter-in-law. Consequently, before the night is over, dinner isn’t the only thing that might be ruined.
Unfolding in real time, Dilemmas With Dinner hardly permits the audience to catch a breath between comical disasters, and director Helga Terre manages the frantic action with incredible finesse. The entire cast is more than capable, with standout performances from David Craft as Brooke’s beleaguered husband, Donny, and Elizabeth Glyptis as Brooke’s overworked but fiercely loyal assistant, Julia.
At times, playwright Robin Roberts relies on a few too many tropes and stock characters to keep the plot moving. However, the strength of this show lies in its razor-sharp dialogue, and fortunately, the actors are up to the task, delivering the lines with such timing and conviction that any shortcomings in the well-worn premise are easy to overlook. Ultimately, though the audience might know from the opening scene where the farcical story is headed, the invitation to this dinner is one most certainly worth accepting.