At the White House correspondents' dinner a couple of years ago, Seth Meyers mocked the inability of Congress to work together by saying, "Do you know what the rest of America calls sitting next to someone with wildly different political views? Thanksgiving."
Following a rancorous national election and with turkey day just around the corner, Tony Fiorentino's "The Feast," now in a world premiere with Prop Thtr, fills the bill for those still hungry for political stemwinders with a sardonic flavor.
It's Thanksgiving 2009, right after the passage of Obamacare in the U.S. House of Representatives, and steely Vincent Baker (John Ruhaak), CEO of American Way Insurance, and his dithery wife, Marie (Marssie Mencotti), are hosting family in their Glencoe home. But things are more fraught than usual: Someone has tossed a brick through the window, and the prime suspect is the husband of a woman who was denied a liver transplant by Vincent's company because she failed to disclose a previous drinking problem. The case has become a cause celebre, complete with Facebook petitions and newspaper coverage.
Lawrence (Ed Dzialo), Vincent and Marie's own alcoholic physician son who also happens to be the medical director for the insurance company, anguishes over the woman's imminent death, while his company lawyer brother, Brady (Daniel Houle), and father argue that approving the transplant could cost someone else a chance at extended life.
Additionally, Tammy (Victoria Gilbert), Brady's new fiancee, is a vegetarian and PETA member in a house surrounded with Vincent's hunting trophies. She emerges shell-shocked from a tour of the mansion with, "When he said a game room, I thought he meant a room for games, maybe a pinball machine." Lawrence's estranged wife, Allison (Kelli Walker), battles bulimia, and their Che Guevara T-shirt-clad daughter, Mallory (Gillian Hemme), announces that she's giving up her plans for medical school to pursue a career in left-leaning causes.
Fiorentino, who tackled a similar dinner-with-disputations theme in 2008's "My Dinner With Amy," in which a believer and an atheist go on a blind date, has often displayed an incisive, if occasionally glib, way with one-liners. But "The Feast" marks a big step forward for this writer, not least because the larger cast gives him more room for rich character development alongside the evergreen political debates. Even when the arguments about collective compassion versus personal responsibility threaten to get overcooked, the cast, under Brian Bell's pinpoint-sharp direction, delivers flavorful and piquant performances.
Through Dec. 16 at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave.; $20 at 773-539-7838 or propthtr.org
"Toast of the Town"
Down the hall from Prop, Factory Theater offers its own smorgasbord of silliness. This updated revival of a 2005 piece by Scott OKen and Ernie Deak, in which struggling playwright Goldie McJohn (Timothy C. Amos) gets a shot with the well-heeled lakefront Lawdy Mama Theater just as his wife is about to have their first baby, is essentially an exercise in excess for its own sake. In other words, it's a Factory show.
There are a few well-placed inside-baseball shots at Chicago theater — a certain local director's fondness for promenade-style productions is called out early. (Hi Sean Graney!) And though the high-spirited actors in Nick Digilio's staging, much like Nigel Tufnel's amps in "Spinal Tap," tend to go to 11 pretty often, there is a slapdash endearing charm that comes through despite the volume.
Laura McKenzie as Arabella C. Doyle, the libidinous and jodhpur-clad director who is known for, among other things, staging "a Jewish 'Agnes of God,'" delivers a delightfully loose-limbed take on the eccentric-artiste archetype, complete with a cigarette holder that functions as a tool of seduction. She is well-matched by her Marx Brothers-esque sidekicks, Myrna Flockstein (Allison Cain in the Chico role) and OKen as Harpo-like Bigsby, whose oversize trench coat is the clown car of wacky props.
Ultimately, there is underlying sweetness to the notion that this gang of self-absorbed theatrical misfits can come together to help Goldie's long-suffering wife, Kay (Laura Deger), deliver their kid, even if the scene easily outpaces Judd Apatow's delivery room interlude in "Knocked Up" in the gross-out department.
Through Dec. 15, Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave.; $20 at 866-811-4111 or thefactorytheater.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun