It does not matter what nationality or religion is practiced to know that when a meeting of the minds takes place over a family gathering, fireworks are bound to be ignited when loose lips reveal secrets perhaps better left unsaid. Television writer, playwright and director Tony Blake was born in Brooklyn and can attest to that fact in the World premiere of his play SUNDAY DINNER which was drawn from his own experience but whose names he has changed to protect himself. And for good reason!
At the center of his play is the Matera family, soon to get together for a very special SUNDAY DINNER in that their son Michael (James Tabeek), a young priest in the Chicago Archdiocese, is returning to his parents’ home in the Bronx after his grandfather dies. And just as Jewish mother would “qvell” about her son being a doctor, no doubt a Catholic mother would love to brag about her son being a priest. So of course when we first meet the family’s matriarch Rose (Sharron Shayne) and her sister Margaret (Michele Schultz) as they are preparing the table for what they expect will be an interesting gathering, we soon learn because so many family members will be there with lots of past history, emotional reactions are bound to be ignited.
Soon after Michael arrives, his retired working-class father Eddie (John Combs) confesses what he calls a sin to Michael, as he is seeking absolution and believes any confession to a priest cannot be shared with anyone else. But when Michael learns his father’s misdeed could have serious consequences for other members of the family, to Eddie’s dismay, Michael refuses to grant him absolution. But what about the commandment “thou shall not steal,” Michael asks his father, to which Eddie responds, “what about honoring your father?”
Complicating matters is the fact that Flip (Dennis Hadley) will also be at the dinner, and what Eddie has done will greatly affect the future Flip has planned in order to care for his ailing mother. And of course, when the truth is revealed about the upcoming sale of the Madera family home, anger results in even more secrets being revealed, proving that money is really the root of all evil among family members when a will is involved.
Of course, Eddie’s not the only one with secrets as Michael has a few of his own. He’s admitted to himself that he’s gay, but he hasn’t yet come out to his family. What’s more, the family does not know he has left the priesthood and is now involved with a man working in the Chicago mayor’s office. And just when things apparently cannot get more complicated, Michael’s loose lipped brother Richie (Kevin Linehan) reveals his ex-wife Diane (Meghan Lloyd), who is also at the dinner table, was Michael’s female ex-lover!
No one is more shocked than she is to find out Michael is gay since she is still interested in him. While I suspect there is a chance Diane’s son may be Michael’s not Richie’s, that may not be a real possibility since their affair occurred when Richie was stationed in Afghanistan, a fact that leads to the family discussing how his behavior has changed dramatically due to his PTSD.
Tony Blake’s often universally comedic dialogue, always delivered to elicit the most laughter possible but each member of the cast who thoroughly inhabit their roles, at the end we are left wondering if the Materas can withstand the weight of so much sin, secrecy and shame. It’s left up to the audience to consider if revealing all has cleansed or destroyed the family. Blake leaves it up to use to decide since the ending is a bit abrupt, as I heard several in the audience asking, “Is that it?” when the lights were dimmed with the characters still onstage in the midst of dessert, as Michael ponders his next step. And James Tabeek’s expression signals us that even Michael may not know how to answer Richie who asks, “you gotta decide if telling the truth is worth all the crap it’s going to leave in its wake.”
As always Theatre 40 technical credits are top notch with Set design by Jeff G. Rack, Sound design by Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski, Costume design by Michèle Young, and Lighting design by Brandon Baruch, as well as Producer David Hunt Stafford, Assistant director Jesse Fiene, and Stage manager Don Solosan who I commend for having to prepare so much edible food to be available onstage during the family’s SUNDAY DINNER.