In The Invitation, Leslie Farrell, David Calvitto and Paul Urcioli await their next course.
The lady doth protest, and so may others
Brian Parks The Invitation is a bloody delight
By Will McKinley
If youre perturbed by the plague of political correctness that threatens to paralyze this country, youll enjoy Brian Parks new play, The Invitation. The dark comedy about a dinner party gone wrong has some of the most gloriously un-P.C. dialogue Ive heard since All in the Family.
The following is a list of special interest groups that may be planning to march in front of SoHos Ohio Theatre on Wooster Street in the near future: the economically disadvantaged, the mentally challenged, the homeless, French writers, prostitutes, South Americans, Jewish people, African Americans, the overweight, autistic children, Mexicans, vegetarians, shellfish aficionados, and unmarried women beyond their childbearing years. If Ive missed any of the victims of Parks poison pen, please mail your letters of complaint to my attention, and I shall reply with a written apology on expensive stationery.
As The Invitation opens, David, a 40-something book editor, and Marian, his icy hot wife, are in the midst of a dinner party with three friends: John, a lawyer; his wife Sarah, a nonprofit do-gooder and Steph, a chronically single and predictably abrasive advertising executive. The characters are the type of well-dressed, well-heeled, well-read intellectuals who laugh just a bit too loudly at moderately amusing New Yorker cartoons whilst sitting next to you on the 6 train at rush hour. When cowboy hat-wearing conventioneers of a certain political persuasion derisively refer to arugula-eating, latte-sipping coastal elites, these are the people theyre talking about.
But the down-market dust-ups of this election season are not the topic of dinner table conversation for the invited guests at this fete noir. Rather, they have come to bear witness to the bloodless battle between a beaten man and his bullying wife, a woman who spouts torrents of invective in an effort to squelch her partners self-conscious intellectualism.
A point of clarification: the battle only starts out bloodlessly. About 30 minutes in, it starts to get, shall we say, somewhat more Shakespearean in nature.
As the acid-lipped wife Marian, Katie Honaker is a standout, enthusiastically and unapologetically whipping verbal daggers at her fellow cast members with deadpan glee. Her skirt suit, pearls and neat bun suggest a proper Upper East Side wife, but her perfectly modulated, flat line contempt is more akin to a mood-stabilized Margo Channing. David Calvitto, as the husband who relentlessly drops names like Joyce, Chaucer and Tchaikovsky, is appropriately milquetoast, until a dramatic moment of spleen permanently alters the marital balance of power.
How you respond to that tonal turning point will ultimately determine your opinion of the play. If you allow yourself, as an improviser might say, to yes, and
the dark absurdity and if you accept the borderline slapstick, mid-show turn in the narrative you will have a fine time. If you resist it, or debate the propriety of laughter at offensive words and actions, you will have fallen victim to the very condition that, I believe, the playwright wishes to expose. As Sydney J. Harris once wrote, if youre not part of the solution, youre part of the problem. (Google him.)
The rest of the cast members Paul Urcioli as the smarmy, Medoc-slugging lawyer, Eva van Dok as his charmingly goofball wife, and Leslie Farrell as the blousy ad lady with a surprising taste for Japanese monster movies provide able support, never failing to do justice to Parks perversities. Obie Award winning director John Clancy, who previously helmed Parks America Absurdum and Goner, keeps the wordplay in sixth gear from the get-go, efficiently staging the action like a mash-up of drawing room farce and Brian De Palmas film version of Carrie.
But the real star of this show is the script. Parks has a gift for the language of hatred and, like Norman Lear did on television a generation ago, he inures us to shocking speech in an effort to reveal some greater truths behind the words. Of course Archie Bunker never did to Edith what David does to Marian in The Invitation, but saying more than that would ruin the fun.
And now, let the protesting commence.