Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills, led by Silver Lake resident David Hunt Stafford, has been producing plays for 54 years.
In February the company will present two productions, a world premiere of Sunday Dinner by noted playwright Tony Blake and ever-popular mystery play The Manor.
I attended Blake’s world premiere drama, now onstage at the Reuben Cordova Theatre in Beverly Hills on the campus of Beverly Hills High School.
The play is a wrenching drama about a working class Italian-American family living in the Bronx. It is a story of family loyalty, betrayal and homosexuality.
As the play opens, Michael Matera (James Tabeek), a young priest, has just flown in from Chicago in time for the family’s Sunday dinner.
He hasn’t seen his family for 5 years. His grandfather has recently died, and the family members anticipate a financial windfall when they sell his house.
Trouble erupts when his father Eddie (John Combs) confesses a sin he committed in regard to the will. Some family members will benefit. Others will be hurt.
Eddie is shocked when his priest son refuses to grant him absolution.
Long-standing tensions mount when Michael’s older brother Ritchie (Kevin Linehan) and cousin Flip (Dennis Hadley) tell homophobic jokes, which offend Michael who up until now has hidden his homosexuality from his family.
In the background Michael’s long-suffering mother, Rose, and his Aunt Margaret try to serve up a nice Sunday dinner.
The play’s action revolves around Michael, movingly interpreted by James Tabeek. Kevin Linehan makes us dislike Michael’s boorish brother Ritchie, while Sharron Shayne proved a sympathetic Rose.
Playwright Blake makes the audience ponder several serious philosophical questions. Is doing the right thing worth the irreparable damage it may do to relationships? Is telling the truth cleansing, or in the end does it create more problems? I left the play without a clear answer to these questions, but with the understanding that human relationships can be messy.
In addition to Sunday Dinner, Theatre 40 is staging a return production of the popular The Manor at Greystone Mansion.
The play, in its 18th year, has been performed over 200 times and regularly sells out.
The story of murder and suicide in the stately Beverly Hills mansion are based on real events that took place there over 90 years ago. Audience members move from room to room as the story unfolds to its tragic conclusion.