Friday, March 26, 2021

511. SUNDAY DINNER. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Martin Shakar, Lois Smith, Brooks Morton, Jerome Dempsey, Jacqueline Brookes, Patrick Mcvey (seated). (Photo: Martha Holmes.)
SUNDAY DINNER [Drama/Family] A: Joyce Carol Oates; D: Curt Dempster; S: Kurt Lundell; C: Willa Kim; L: Roger Morgan; P: American Place Theatre; T: St. Clement’s Church (OB); 10/16/70-11/25/70 (41)

A Midwestern family sits down to its Sunday ritual of eating dinner after visiting the grave of their late matriarch. A strange, blind census taker (Patrick McVey) intrudes upon the scene and gradually makes each squirm as their personal guilt is drawn out. Eventually, he is ejected (although he may well be their long absent father), and his place is taken by one of the sons.

This play by prolific novelist Joyce Carol Oates was turned down by all the critics. As Richard Watts phrased it, Sunday Dinner was pretentious, studiously obscure, and ponderous.” Few were able to grasp the author’s point, and most felt there was nothing but a vacuum at its core. Clive Barnes thought it an allegory of sorts with murky, symbolic trappings. Walter Kerr was put off by its qualities of self-indulgence. Martin Gottfried knocked it for being “awkwardly and insincerely written” in the vein of Harold Pinter.

Few quarrels were picked with the acting or directing. As John Simon noted, they “seem to know how it is done even if they don’t know what it is they are doing.”

The rather distinguished cast included Jacqueline Brookes, Lois Smith, Brooks Morton, Jerome Dempsey, and Martin Shakar.

Next up: Sunset