Christopher Duthie’s A Dinner Party digs into social anxiety for a tasty, trippy dark comic treat

A stellar cast and great script make Christopher Duthie’s latest offering a hit, according to Caroline Russell-King.

Show: A Dinner Party.

Playwright/composer: Christopher Duthie.

Production Company/theatre space: Bad Knaps Theatre in The Playhouse at Vertigo.

Length: One act (one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission!).

Genre(s): Absurdist black comedy.

Premise: (spoiler?) Four people’s anxiety dreams coalesce to form one singular narrative.

Why this play? Why now?: The social anxiety of four self-involved 20 year olds plays out in standard tropes of being naked in public, flying, not having enough food to serve or serving non-traditional foods … a unifying human condition in uncertain times.

Curiosities: Do we really need the stand alone monologues that pontificate on life and love and grind the action to a halt? If a male actor takes a risk shouldn’t the female equivalent be at the same level of risk? Does the script need the Pulp Fiction locked box device? Isn’t what makes this play rich and unique, what it has to say about anxiety, which is infinitely more interesting that what it says about love and relationships?

Notable lines: “What’s an anxiety dream?” (In context it is foreshadowing and funny.)

Notable writing: In the Venn diagram of writing at its best, it overlaps with Ionesco (circa The Chairs) and Shepard (circa Cowboy Mouth). In the third act structure, my anxiety was raised as it momentarily lost its banter but then all was restored. The richness of the script is juxtaposed by a more trite feeling of an episode of Friends – if they were all on coke and went through a dreamscape looking glass.

Notable performances: Ayla Stephen (Boo), the de facto protagonist, knows comedy. Often those who do improv or sketch comedy bring these honed talents to scripted works in the way other actors aren’t always able to. Allison Lynch (Darling) knows that underplaying sometimes results in the biggest laughs. 

Notable design/production: Costume and props designer Deitra Kalyn needed some extra hands and managed to manufacture them. Genius.

Notable direction: This is Julie Orton’s inaugural show (under the mentorship of Mark Bellamy) – I can’t wait to see what she does with something more conventional. 

One reason to see this show: This “ghoul”lash serves up comedy, go get yourself a big helping.

Caroline Russell-King is a playwright, dramaturg, and instructor. She is a member of The Playwrights Guild of Canada, the Dramatist Guild of America and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can find her work here