Timely new play delivers a clear message
|Prop Thtr presents|
Review by Keith Glab
A timely play by Tony Fiorentino makes its world premiere at the Prop Thtr. Set at a Thanksgiving dinner around the advent of Obamacare, The Feast depicts a family struggling with the ethics of the insurance industry and our nation’s health care system.
The CEO of American Way Insurance, Vincent Baker (John Ruhaak) hosts Thanksgiving dinner in his mansion along with his wife Rita (Marssie Mencotti). The play opens with an officer (Steve Peebles) investigating a brick that was hurled through a bathroom window. Vincent suspects the husband of a client who was denied coverage for a liver transplant because she failed to disclose her history with alcoholism as a pre-existing condition.
Vincent’s son and executive Lawrence (Ed Dzialo) sympathizes with the patient in part because he is an alcoholic himself, but mostly his conscience is eating at him. Lawrence’s daughter Mallory (Gillian Hemme), a social activist and know-it-all, adds even more fuel to the fire. The pragmatic Brady (Daniel Houle), Vincent’s other son, represents the middle ground. He begins the play strongly on the side of his father and the company, but proceeds to examine the issue from several angles and ultimately believes that covering the transplant is the right course of action.
While it never completely devolves into pure propaganda, the production never leaves any question as to which side of the issue it supports. All of the props in the production are red – including the food – and really stand out against the ornate grayscale of the set. The red could symbolize communism or simply health care in general, but the play’s closing image leaves little doubt that it’s actually symbolizing something more foreboding, foreshadowed by a clever rodent metaphor introduced earlier.
There is strong, understated acting throughout, and almost every character is given some depth. Lawrence’s fiancée Tammy (Victoria Gilbert) has a lot of give-and-take to her character and her vegetarianism figures prominently in the proceedings. Allison (Kelli Walker), Lawrence’s wife in a failing marriage, is controlling and bulimic, but manages to be somewhat likeable regardless. The one exception is Vincent, who basically personifies evil. Ruhaak plays him as the villain very capably, but without any redeeming qualities we have no interest in his outcome. (As written, however, Vincent does make some salient points, cold though they may be.)
Even if the somewhat preachy nature of this piece rubs some audience members the wrong way, they no doubt appreciate its pacing, humor, aesthetics, and thoughtfulness. The magnitude of the drama at a Thanksgiving dinner, ranging from vomiting to vandalism to gunshots,strains believability just a little, but not enough to detract from the poignancy of the story. Sink your teeth into The Feast, and give thanks that your own holiday dinner isn’t quite so eventful.
The Feast continues through December 16th at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $20, and are available by phone (773-539-7838) or online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at PropThtr.org. (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)
John Ruhaak (Vincent), Marssie Mencotti (Rita), Ed Dzialo (Lawrence), Kelli Walker (Allison), Daniel Houle (Brady), Victoria Gilbert (Tammy), Gillian Hemme (Mallory), Steve Peebles (Officer), Marie Goodkin (Rita understudy)
behind the scenes
Brian Bell (director); Joseph Lark-Riley (set design); Nevena Todorovic (costumes); Gina Patterson (lighting); Aaron Quick (sound design); Katherine Campbell (props); Tristan Meredith (asst. props); Henri Dugas IV (stage manager); Joanna Lind (asst. director); Michael St. John (carpenter)