StageSceneLA Review – SUNDAY DINNER is “as suspenseful as it is entertaining”

An abundance of secrets and lies get revealed over the course of one eventful evening in Tony Blake’s funny, engaging, twist-filled Sunday Dinner, now getting a spiffy, splendidly acted World Premiere production at Beverly Hills’ Theatre 40.

What differentiates tonight’s feast from the many that have come before is its particular cast of characters, not only Italian-American sisters Rose (last-minute substitute Diana Angelina) and Margaret (Michele Schultz) and Margaret’s husband Eddie (John Combs) but also Rose and Eddie’s grown sons Richie (Kevin Linehan) and Michael (James Tabeek), Richie’s ex-wife Diane (Meghan Lloyd), and the sisters’ deceased brother’s adult son Flip (Dennis Hadley), brought together under one roof by the family patriarch’s recent death.

While awaiting the evening’s invited guests, the two sisters discuss plans to sell the Bronx row house they grew up in (and that Rose and Eddie still call home), and for blunt-talking Margaret, the move can’t come too soon. (“If I see one more turban, I swear I’m going to lose my mind.”)

Eddie, on the other hand, has more pressing matters on his mind, namely the need to confess, and who better to than his priest son?

Rose’s late father had, it turns out, put the deed to his house in his three children’s names so that after his death, it could be sold without the need for inheritance taxes to be withheld.

Then his only son Phillie went and predeceased him, and since Grandpa disliked both his daughter-in-law Millie and his grandson Flip and didn’t want either of them to get his son’s share of the house, son-in-law Eddie (more or less per the family head’s request) ended up forging a document in which Phillie supposedly declared that he was giving his share of the house to his two sisters.

Now, suffering from guilt-provoked insomnia, Eddie needs his priest son’s assurance that this forgery doesn’t constitute a mortal sin. (He was, after all, only following the Commandment to “Honor thy father” … and nowhere among The Ten does it say that you can’t forge a document, right?)

It’s a confession that puts Michael in more than a bit of a moral pickle, especially after finding out that Flip’s mother not only suffers from fibromyalgia but needs expensive back surgery as well.

And this is just the first in a litany of secrets and lies that are about to come to light (Michael’s got three whoppers to divulge) as Sunday Dinner unfolds in real time. (Talk about an eventful couple of hours.)

What makes Blake’s new play as suspenseful as it is entertaining are not only its multiple surprise revelations but waiting on the edge of your seat for them to get found out.

Add to that a number of hot-button topics sure to provoke conversations during intermission and after the show and you’ve got one humdinger of a new play.

Sunday Dinner’s colorful cast of characters may be familiar archetypes, but playwright Blake makes each one specific to this particular family, from Margaret (who asserts that “A cigarette and a stiff drink will get me through anything”) to Eddie (whose moral compass is at the very least askew) to linchpin Michael (who’s got more than one reason for not wanting to hear his father’s confession), and under the playwright’s astute direction, there’s not a weak link in a top-of-the-line Theatre 40 cast.

A revelatory Tabeek anchors the production in a warm and winning star turn every bit as genuine as Combs’ unapologetically flawed Eddie, Linehan’s loose canon of a Richie, Lloyd’s wounded but resilient Diane, Schultz’s foul-mouthed Margaret, Hadley’s salt-of-the-earth Flip, and (with only a few hours advance notice) a book-in-hand but nigh-on flawless Angelina.

Jeff G. Rack’s expansive, authentic living room/dining room set, Michèle Young’s spot-on costumes, Brandon Baruch and Gregory Craft’s subtly effective lighting, Judi Lewin’s character-appropriate hair, wigs, and makeup, and Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s reality-establishing sound design add up to a Grade-A production design.

Sunday Dinner is produced by David Hunt Stafford. Don Solosan is stage manager and Jesse Fiene is assistant stage manager.

Expertly segueing from comedy to drama and back, and unafraid to resist leaving things tied up in a neat, pretty bow, Sunday Dinner makes for one richly rewarding family feast.