Total Theater Review of SUNDAY DINNER

Total Rating: ***

A family meal turns into a day of reckoning in Sunday Dinner, now in a world-premiere run at Theater 40.

Written and directed by Tony Blake, the play deals with the secrets of a working-class family in the Bronx, secrets which are revealed during the course of a sumptuous Italian luncheon (you can just about smell the lasagna). The action is triggered by the return of Michael (James Tabeek), a young priest who has been based in Chicago for the past seven years. The apparent pride and joy of the Catholic family—he’s been doing God’s work, after all—Michael is greeted warmly by his father Eddie (John Combs) and his mother Rose (Sharron Shayne). But things begin to go downhill from there as the rest of the family arrives and begins turning on one or another.

They’re a troubled lot, the Materas clan, starting with the patriarch Eddie, who has forged a real-estate document to keep control of the Bronx apartment (which he wants to sell). Then there’s a cousin, Flip (Dennis Hadley), who has lost his job and is going broke, and a son Richie (Kevin Linehan), an Afghan vet who now dresses like a cowboy and is an obnoxious loudmouth. Richie was once married to Diane (Meghan Lloyd) and treated her so badly that she divorced him and can’t speak to him without cursing him out. Tabeek makes us feel Michael’s pain and guilt over his sinful behavior (in the eyes of the church). A sensitive, intelligent, and thoroughly decent man, he decides that the best, most honorable thing to do is to leave the priesthood. This decision has more of an impact on the family than learning that he was gay (as Flip puts it, “it’s no secret that most priests are queer”). It also leads to more confrontations, revelations and accusations, with the dark side of the Materas family being peeled away, layer by layer. Even mama Rose has a sinful secret to reveal.

If Sunday Dinner has a central theme, it is summed up in the words of Richie Matera: “You gotta decide if telling the truth is worth all the crap it’s going to leave in its wake.”