Leslie Farrell, David Calvitto, and Paul Urcioli
in The Invitation
(©  Word Monger)
Leslie Farrell, David Calvitto, and Paul Urcioli
in The Invitation
(© Word Monger)
Have you ever been to a dinner party when you just wanted to kill someone to shut them up? In Brian Parks' The Invitation, making its world premiere at the Ohio Theatre, murder just might be on the menu. But while the play's scathing dialogue and absurdist humor allow for some deliciously ironic moments, the enterprise as a whole falls a little flat.

The piece starts out with a birthday dinner that married couple David (David Calvitto) and Marian (Katie Honaker) are throwing for their friend Steph (Leslie Farrell), with guests John (Paul Urcioli) and Sarah (Eva van Dok) in attendance. As the partygoers eat and drink, they make inane conversation about everything from literature to ghosts. Soon enough, the dinner table chat becomes a power struggle between the verbosely intellectual David and the cynical Marian, who lets loose with all sorts of vile statements about the disabled, Jews, African-Americans, and more. Some of these lines are so offensive that they are also incredibly funny -- particularly with some well-placed pauses that director John Clancy has inserted into the action as everyone else at the table takes in the comment and has no idea what to say in response.

However, the play then undergoes a radical shift in tone from contemporary social satire to something akin to Greek tragedy. As David enacts a particularly bloody form of revenge against his wife, it leaves the rest of the guests to figure out what to do next. Unfortunately, this segment of the play is overlong and repetitious. While it brings up interesting concerns about inaction and complicity, the actors peak too early and have nowhere to build as the scene drags on and on.

Clancy has paced the majority of the action at a rapid clip, which has resulted in a general insincerity of delivery by the actors; they spout the lines, but there's little intention behind them. Honaker seems to be commenting on her role rather than inhabiting it, while Calvitto doesn't have a firm grip on his lines and even when he does has a limited range of emotions that he uses to express them. Van Dok gets a beautifully surreal monologue towards the end of the play which she delivers nicely; and Urcioli has a few non-verbal reactions that are well expressed along with a particularly good rapport with Farrell.

Parks is at his most engaging when poking holes in the naturalistic frame of the piece. I particularly enjoyed the moment when birds started randomly crashing into the window with loud thunks. Still, while there are some pointed critiques aimed at wealthy liberals, the play too often prizes style over substance.