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Two Things You Don't Talk About At Dinner

[An abbreviated version of this review will appear in Variety magazine the week of February 5th.]

The Passover Seder, a retelling of Exodus, provides the premise for a free-swinging discussion of politics and religion, including the Middle East, in Lisa Loomer's oftentimes funny, but frustratingly stereotypical attempt at reconciling some of humankind's most divisive issues.

Cast of Two Things You Don't Talk About At Dinner
Cast of
Two Things You Don't Talk About At Dinner
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Like the Last Supper, itself a Seder, 13 disparate souls—in this case a sampling of the nation's most diverse city, LA—gather to share views on freedom, oppression, slavery, and plagues. The ethnic smorgasbord serves up zingers for every palate.

In addition to the observant Jewish hosts, Myriam (Mimi Lieber) and Jack (Lenny Wolpe), the assembled melting pot includes: Myriam's grown African-American daughter from her first marriage, Nikki (Karen Pittman); Myriam's born-again office mate, Ginny (Catherine E. Coulson); Ginny's teenage, reefer-friendly Buddhist son, Christopher (Ben Morrow); Jack's law partner, Josh (John Hutton), a conservative Jew whose family survived the Holocaust; Kimiko (Sala Iwamatsu), Josh's second wife, a Japanese-American perfectionist and convert to Judaism; Rachelle (Shana Dowdeswell), Josh's outspoken bulimic daughter from his first marriage; Alice (Caitlin O'Connell), Myriam's dear friend going back to college; Dan (Sam Gregory), Alice's substance-challenged husband, a TV writer, who serves as the besotted, truth-telling fool and, along with his wife, as a secular Jew; Mable (Sophia Espinosa), Alice and Dan's precocious, adopted Chinese daughter, the nascent product of a humorous set of politically correct and trending parental standards; Lupe (Gabriella Cavallero), the Mexican help, who is being deported by the U.S. government to save them from paying death benefits to her, after her son died in action in Afghanistan; and Sam (Nasser Faris), Myriam's oldest friend from childhood, of Lebanese descent, the Palestinian proxy.

How did the Koreans, El Salvadorians, and Filipinos get left out?

Nasser Faris as Sam and Mimi Lieber as Myriam
Nasser Faris as Sam and Mimi Lieber as Myriam
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Seriously, all the usual ethnic stereotypes, gender biases, religious prejudices, and political reflexes get exercised if not exorcised, and therein lies the problem: we've heard all these arguments before; and without new material, the discussion founders, despite Loomer's larger intensions.

All this bickering is a run up to the big question, which Loomer defines as Israel versus Palestine, that is, framed as all the failed attempts at a peace process have done before—as a political problem that began in 1948 between states, instead of a religious war that began nearly 1400 years before with Muslims putting whole cities of Jews to the sword, continued with a Muslim SS division during WWII, and which now finds itself with the shoe on the other foot. Loomer does have Christopher ask, "Don't you think if Palestinians got power they'd do the same thing?"—but this only serves to show that not only is the pre-1948 history is unknown to Loomer, but that she is unaware that when the Jordanians controlled the Old City from 1948 until the Six Day War in 1967, they forbid the Jews from their holy sites.

Karen Pittman as Nikki and Mimi Lieber as Myriam
Karen Pittman as Nikki and Mimi Lieber as Myriam
Photo: Terry Shapiro
In the absence of an informed historical view—not unlike the production's prop faux pas that placed a Hanukkiyot (an eight-stemmed Hanukkah candelabra) instead, of a (seven-stemmed) menorah, on the sideboard—the arguments about the present slaughter paint an unbalanced picture, as if current circumstances had no antecedents, such as a long line of atrocities (by whomever momentarily has the upper hand, including Christians), claims of spiritual superiority on all sides, and the unending cycle of violence between the three religions (except for a couple of brief periods, in Moorish Spain and Salonica).

After the climactic big blow up, ignited by unseen photos of mutilated children presented by Sam, the gathering disperses, concluding with interplay between the principals. Nikki's decision to direct "My Name is Rachel Corrie," another drama that paints an oversimplified picture of the long-standing hostilities, drives a wedge between mother and daughter. Loomer's attempt at a reconciling denouement between Myriam and Sam leaves the big questions hanging and the story without a catharsis.

Mimi Lieber as Myriam and Lenny Wolpe as Jack
Mimi Lieber as Myriam and Lenny Wolpe as Jack
Photo: Terry Shapiro
If there is an answer to all the bloodletting, it isn't a political solution based on 20th century myopia and the conflation of Israel, Judaism, Zionism, and U.S. foreign policy; it is, rather, a spiritual awakening that recognizes our inherent unity. Unfortunately, the inter-religious aspect of this dinner table discussion never evolves past cliché and historical ignorance, despite excellent production values, direction (Wendy C. Goldberg), and performance, particularly Lieber, who must hold down the fort with some unnecessarily weak arguments.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of Lisa Loomers's Two Things You Don't Talk About At Dinner runs thorugh February 19th. For tickets: 303-893-4100 or www.denvercenter.org.

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