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LA Theater Review

The Dinner Party

Into a private dining room of an upscale Parisian restaurant iconic playwright Neil Simon inserts three divorced couples supposedly invited by a nonappearing host. Written sans intermission, this laborious one-act bolsters the suspicion that Simon's writing is past its prime. After a setup chock-full of his expected witty repartee, the play takes a clunky turn toward the serious. The result is the sense that we're witnessing an onstage therapy exercise for this many-times-divorced Pulitzer Prize winner.

The proceedings aren't helped much by director Jon Berry's bumpy production, played out on Charles W. Hall's nicely appointed but choreographically unserviceable set. Berry and his ensemble are obviously aware of the punch lines, which, with very few exceptions, fall flat. What's missing is a heightened sensibility Simon instills in his European characters, even those considered middle class by American standards. Instead, this cast, for the most part, plows through the script with little, if any, evident motivation.

Arriving first are Robert Reeves and Bob Van Dusen, respectively playing a bookstore owner and automobile salesman. Though both are certainly watchable, in their hands the play leaves the gate at a snail's pace rather than the brisk clip required to engage an audience. Adding another nail to the comedic coffin is Keith Lewis' entrance as a relatively blue-blooded snob graced with good looks but the soul of a snake. Lewis' uncomfortable physicality-posing with drink always in hand and/or hands on hips- undermines his lion's share of Simon's wit.

Next up, the former wives of our male trio appear in order of divorce. Joanne Zahorsky-Reeves is now a published author, to the chagrin of her ex-husband. Her emotional monologues suffer as she annoyingly accentuates every word with arms flailing and bouncing on the balls of her feet. Kirsten Berman's perkiness as Van Dusen's ex and Jennifer Taylor's elevated nobility as Lewis' former mate are welcomingly refreshing. Unfortunately, despite a handle on the material and designer Don Nelson's best costumes, their characters are too little, too late to revive this uneven social affair.

Presented by and at West Valley Playhouse, 7242 Owensmouth Dr., Canoga Park. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. May 19-Jun.11. (818) 884-1907.

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