Family Dinner, written by Michelle Willens and directed by Jamibeth Margolis, now being staged at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row on West 42nd Street, is a two act, two generational (and two dimensional) production. The play's conceit contrasts a family's life in Santa Monica in 1963 with that of their descendants in New York in 2002. It is pretty much of a cliche that would require sharp language, inventive plot structure, and/or exceptional acting to make it stand out from the ordinary. Unfortunately, none of those ingredients are present here and the play is ultimately disappointing.
In the first act, we meet the Leave It to Beaver-ish Wells family in all its glory: Jane (Nancy Nagrant), a cartoonish Betty Crocker lookalike who might have been a fine violinist if she hadn't sacrificed it all for husband and children; Howard (William Broderick), her self-made, demanding, borderline alcoholic husband who escaped the Cossacks in Russia as a child to emigrate to America and create a successful business in the garment industry; Alex (Rick Desloge) their under-appreciated, sensitive, literary son; Johnny (Marshall Pailet), their socially and athletically admired but otherwise generally over-rated younger son; and Maggie (Lily Corvo), a stereotypical confused teenage girl on the cusp of womanhood. We also meet Grampa (Daniel Pollack), Leonore (Mary McGloine), Jane's adventurous friend; and Mr. Kardadenas (John Hagerty), Maggie's school teacher and latest crush. Stir it all together and the results are predictable: Dad drinks, Mom denies, Johnny fails, Alex resents, and Maggie is victimized. Fifteen minute intermission and fade to the second act.
Maggie (now played by Nancy Nagrant who played her mother in the first act) is all grown up, married to Dan Barton (played by John Hagerty who played Mr. Kardadenas in the first act) and living in New York in 2002. Their son, Mike (played by Marshall Pailet who played Johnny in the first act) is very much a loser. Their daughter, Lexy (played by Lily Corvo who played Maggie in the first act) is graduating from high school. Grandma Jane (Mary Ellen Ashley), Uncle Alex (Patrick Riviere) and Uncle Johnny (played by William Broderick who played Howard in the first act) are all in for the graduation. In case you missed them, the acorns didn't fall far from the trees. Howard, incidentally, has passed away, presumably Grampa has too, and Leonore is off being an archaeologist. Everyone blames everyone else for the shortcomings in his or her life. Maggie gains the strength to face the trauma she experienced in the first act. Johnny walks off a loser. Jane tentatively reconsiders the reality of her roles as wife and mother. Yada yada yada.
A bunch of red herrings also are thrown into the mix: Howard is distraught in the first act when the IRS visits his business concerning some chicanery on the part of his partner, but we never learn more about it. Alex had a long love affair with a married woman - and we learn nothing more about that either. In sum, this isn't much of a play and it's probably just as well that it's closing soon.