BWW Review: DINNER AT FIVE at Indian Wells Theatre
Writer Lloyd J. Schwarz, a veteran of such television comedies as The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island, has scribed a new stage comedy called Dinner at Five which has just commenced a five-week run in Palm Desert. Starring four familiar faces from 70's and 80's television, experiencing the play is a bit of a time warp, but much like Televisionland, it wafts us back to a gentler time, and provides an enjoyable evening out.
Kathy Garver (Cissy in TV's Family Affair) and Christopher Knight (Peter Brady in The Brady Bunch) are a long-married couple. They have decided to invite another couple over for dinner, an activity they rarely indulge in. The two husbands know each other from their regular poker night, the ladies have met while shopping, but the husbands don't know each other's wives. The guests are played by Caryn Richman (TV's The New Gidget) and LARRY THOMAS (The Soup Nazi on Seinfeld).
As the couples get to know each other, we learn that Knight's character loves to tell jokes, which gives the playwright an opportunity to dig into his somewhat dusty joke book - "Is the chicken in your Chinese Chicken Salad really Chinese?" The other husband is a teacher, and much more matter of fact. We soon learn that the ladies have cooked up a plot to swap husbands. Periodically, both men or both women will go to the kitchen to facilitate some component of the dinner, which gives the other two characters a chance to chat and evolve the plot. Turns out the men have been previously tipped off about the proposed swap, so all that's left for us in the audience to wonder about is how and when the proposal will be made.
Wife swaps were pretty thoroughly explored in the 70's (Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice), but there's a bit of novelty in that the current participants are all older -- they describe themselves as "Sweniors," swinging seniors - and it's a bit of a turnaround that the ladies are initiating the swap of husbands. The greatest strength of the evening is that all four performers are super troupers, who have been performing this type of material for 40+ years. They make it credible, funny, and warmly enjoyable. The majority of the opening night audience was 70+, and as I looked at their faces from time to time, they were transfixed by the action on stage, and most were generally delighted.
Each of the actors delivered just what was needed, and exuded consistent professionalism. Kathy Garver sets the tone of the show as a good-looking wife, gently educating her sports-loving husband in the placement of silverware at the dining table and other social graces which haven't been part of their daily lifestyle. Christopher Knight's Eddie is a big corny oaf, but Knight delivers his character without stereotype. This material is certainly a niche, a style that has mostly passed us by, but these familiar TV actors have been delivering it for 40 years, and their expertise is the key to the evening's success.
For the final three weeks of performances, starting February 7, the cast will be Ilene Graff (the wife on Mr. Belvedere), John Moschitta, Jr. (the voices of several dozen animated TV characters), Julie Cobb (guest star on virtually every series made in the 70's and 80's) and David Ruprecht (host of Supermarket Sweep, and familiar TV character actor).
All performances are at the Indian Wells Theatre on the campus of CSUB, 37500 Cook Street, Palm Desert. Tickets and further information are available at dinnerat5.tix.com.