Dinner for Two/Cena Para Dos
nytheatre.com review by Kat Chamberlain
May 15, 2008
Can an exceedingly familiar premise be given lines so sharp, and portrayals so energetic, that the audience is charmed into forgetting that they have taken the same ride many times before? Puerto Rican Traveling Theater's production of Dinner for Two (Cena Para Dos) has done just that, thanks to the strength of the writing and the likeability of the performers. Its Sex and the City–style "bad girl/good girl" dynamic may have become a weekly affair, but in the end everyone, onstage and off, exited this ride with big smiles on their faces.
Spanish playwright Santiago Moncade has paired off his two middle-aged protagonists with clear contrasts. Emi has been widowed for 15 years and is still mourning, emotionally and physically, her beloved dead husband, denying any dissatisfaction with her solitude: "My best party is the one I celebrate with myself." Berta dresses and acts young, and has a thing or two to say to her best friend: "How can you stand your own life?"
One night Emi visits Berta as the latter is getting ready to receive a hunky dentist lover. Emi dutifully assists and listens to Berta's instruction, on dating in general and seduction of men in particular. Berta has experience and skills worthy of a sex manual—from the ritual of candle lighting to the strategic placement of napkins, all for a "world ruled by symbols." A phone call from another lover pulls Berta away, and Emi is left with the task of "entertaining" the expected guest.
A funny thing—or two—happens after the gentleman caller, Pedro, climbs to the 12th-floor apartment, courtesy of a broken elevator. Emi is not the only one who has to overcome issues from the past. And it turns out that with good company, or better yet, a good partner, personal baggage is not all that difficult to unload. The happy ending can be spotted a mile away, but one is amply entertained by the droll language and bubbly physical comedy.
Although I enjoyed the madcap sketches of friendship and romance, I wish the show could have toned down its frantic, high-pitch attempts at laughter just a few notches. Moncade's language is so piquant that it is diminished rather than enhanced by the sometimes exaggerated performance. That said, the actors wear the characters' big hearts on their sleeves and one cannot help rooting for them. Jezabel Montero gives a wining performance as Berta, with just right amount of sass and vivacity. Angelica Ayala (Emi) is at her best in the quieter moments, and entirely endearing at the end. Fred Valle's Pedro offers a sense of reality in the overall fantastical setting.
Noteworthy is Charles Philip Thomas's translation. The performance I saw was in English, and at no time did I feel that the language was anything but natural and flowing. Lines like "Rap is crap without the C" rendered big laughs. Another highlight is Christina Gould's gorgeous set design, its bright colors and geometrical shapes suiting the vibe of the story perfectly.
If you are like me, who likes my romance splashed with acidic wit and a certain bittersweet yearning, something that is minimally mawkish and occasionally subversive, bring a date to this one.