Director's debut opens to full house

By BY ALICE ADAMS - Special to the Advocate
May 1, 2010 at 12:01 a.m.

With Theatre Victoria's presentation last Friday of Neil Simon's "The Dinner Party," new Producing Artistic Director Charles Moster's debut effort served up a full banquet of laughter, garnished with unexpected mystery and the entire gamut of emotions as only Simon can deliver to an opening night full house.

With a script based on the playwright's own four trips to the divorce lawyer, the two-act tour de force offered heaping helpings of snappy one-liners and laughs galore. But the key ingredient Friday - and the momentum behind the standing ovation earned by the entire cast - was Moster's sensitive, sharp directorial style, magically transforming six accomplished actors into a well-tuned ensemble of divorced couples, brought together for a dinner party and the resulting rollercoaster ride that follows.

Deftly and delicately, cast members introduce their intricate characters, one delicious layer at a time, with Randy Pollard as Claude, the antique bookseller, launching the show, and Pollard is definitely in his element, deadpanning Simon's biting lines while sizing up his dinner partners without overplaying his character.

Theatre Victoria newcomer Josette Looft as Andre's ex, Mariette, sweeps onto the stage with the grace of a dancer as she expertly balances dramatic monologues with quirky, neurotic, credenzas.

The bumbling, nerdy Albert is played to perfection by Jason Ramirez, leveraging his physicality, as well as his mannerisms, while inviting laughs with almost every line. Jennifer Rayburn, as the anxiously dour Yvonne, masterfully counters her "communicatively challenged" ex-mate with energetic resignation.

Last-minute stand-in Russell Fowler deserves kudos for perfecting the enigmatic character Andre in less than two weeks, and his pomposity is sensually equaled by Mary Hall as Gabrielle, his ex-wife and the beguiling vixen who adds a spoonful of intrigue and oo la la to the second act.

Together, the cast infuses Simon's characters with appropriate counterpoint and complexity, ultimately concocting a veritable feast of entertainment from the first scene to their well-deserved curtain calls.

Speaking of feasts, under the expert stage management of Lori Williamson, Paul Locher and Michael Teer's recreation of a Parisian restaurant - complete with a Fragonard-like mural and crown moldings - is a feast for the eyes, as was the well-nuanced and dramatic illumination of George and Joyce Matthews.

Sound designer Curtis Short's technical agility kept the actors' individual microphones acoustically balanced and Karen Locher and Patsy Hand lavished the set with elegant period furnishings and decor. Gail Crockett's costuming created the stylish icing on this production.

"The Dinner Party" at the Theatre Victoria is an artistically demanding-but-scrumptious production, guaranteed to whet your appetite for more of Moster's magic, coming in the 2010-11 season.

Tickets are available at the box office, by calling 361-570-8575 or online at



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