No 'table' Of Contents
MPC's staging of Jewish family comedy gets lost in time and place.
Thursday, February 15, 2001
Feeding Frenzy: Michael Provence and Stephanie DiBona turn in very good performances but can''t save MPC''s from-hunger staging of Table Settings.Billed as "brisk and witty, a veritable comedy feast[about] a zany Jewish-American family," MPC''s production of Table Settings is neither brisk nor witty. And as far as "zany" Jewish families go, it is difficult to believe these people have ever met, let alone connected through blood or marriage. The situations are humorous enough and one does sense that it is supposed to be funny (i.e., the gags are often seen coming long before their arrival), but unfortunately too few laughs actually manifest.
Confusion was the main result of the performance I attended.
Confusion #1. The play is called Table Settings and purports to be about three generations of a Jewish family, yet only occasionally does the table actually get set and even rarely is food enjoyed. Then when the family does get to the table, the meal lasts about three minutes. So why title it Table Settings if you aren''t going to really set the table?
Confusion #2. When is the play set? The matriarch (Nancy Kocher) emigrated from Minsk (where else do Jewish matriarchs come from in plays and film?), so it is reasonable to calculate she arrived in the USA sometime after WWII, in the late ''40s or early ''50s. The kids were born in the new country, yet Older Son (Henry Guevara) and his Wife (Elizabeth Klaas-Guevara) seem firmly planted in the ''50s--him with his martinis and her with her pearls, overcooked vegetables and firmly repressed sexuality. That is one short childhood.
No, that can''t be right. Wife has a yogi, so it must be mid-to-late ''70s, right? Meanwhile, Younger Son (Brendan Godfrey), who is 25 going on 12 ("No one in this family understands me--no one even tries"), has the slacker posture and wardrobe (ski cap and all) of well-dressed ''90s grunge. Huh?
Granted, playwrights dispensed with Aristotle''s notion of the unities of time, place and event about five minutes after he uttered the words, but some kind of unifying theme or conflict or time period (take your pick) is helpful. If one is going all-out surreal, let the audience in on the secret--introduce the handcuffs earlier in the show.
"Money is freedom," a mantra uttered by nearly every character in the play, might be some secret code theme, but there is little evidence in the script of any exploration of the relative merits or demerits of such a philosophy. It operates more like a non sequitur, another dead end.
The actors worked very hard to make all of this mush work. Unfortunately, it was an uphill struggle. As a result, most of the cast members often fell into stereotypes. Two exceptions were Stephanie DiBona, who unselfconsciously captured the sullen knowingness of adolescence as Granddaughter, and Michael Provence, who was engaging as the awkward, slightly strange, pre-adolescent Grandson. I believed they could be siblings and enjoyed watching them betray each other to the grownup world, and then turn around and collaborate against it.
Table Settings plays Thursday (7pm), Friday-Saturday (8pm) and Sunday (2pm) at the Studio Theater, 980 Fremont in Monterey, through Feb. 25. Tickets cost $10. For reservations or more info, call 646-4213.