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Dinner at the End of the World

By Rachelle Bowden in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 30, 2004 6:10PM

Get down on your knees and pray you’re never invited to a dinner party like this one.

Omnium Gatherum - Photo: nexttheatre.orgIn the case of “Omnium Gatherum,” presented in Evanston by the Next Theatre Company, dinner is served in the well-appointed dining room of Suzie, a hyper-efficient hostess of the Martha Stewart stripe. In return for the five-course gourmet meal she dishes up to her guests, she demands only hearty discourse on the issues of the day.

No shortage of options there: co-writers Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros and director Jason Loewith manage to cram a dizzying hodgepodge of post-9/11 hot buttons into 90 intermissionless minutes, touching on everything from politics, religion, and terrorism to veganism and the merits of British TV shows over their American counterparts. (It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, but it’s worth hearing again when it’s done this smartly.) Dissent is guaranteed by virtue of the guest list, a motley crew of cultural prototypes intentionally selected for their wide-ranging viewpoints. What can they agree on? Wine & sex, natch. What do they argue about? Everything else.

Throughout the evening, menacing signs accompany the hilariously over-complicated dishes—a blinding white light and trickling fog that appear every time the hostess vanishes into her cavernous apartment, the occasional buzz of helicopters circling overhead—to tell us something is not quite right in this otherwise privileged world. By the time Suzie serves up two unsettling surprises, neither the characters nor the audience are sure of anything anymore.

The cast is uniformly excellent, particularly the brittle Wendy Robie as Suzie, a deceptively benign dingbat armed with artful zingers and a curious taste in entertainment, and Anish Jethmalani as Khalid, an Arab intellectual who sees both sides of the clashing perspectives that underlie the perils ahead for mankind.

Word to the wise: the food onstage, supplied by a rotating gallery of local restaurants, looks and smells divine, so you’d do well to feast on more than a Nature Valley granola bar before the show. Remember, we make these mistakes so you won’t have to.

Runs through Dec. 12. Tickets are $20-$31.

Thanks, Kari!