Dublin Theatre Festival 2022: Dinner With Groucho
Greg Hicks and Ian Bartholomew in Dinner With Groucho. Image uncredited.
Frank McGuinness frequently refers to Eugene O'Neill in his latest play, Dinner With Groucho, receiving its world premiere as part of Dublin Theatre Festival. But it's not O'Neill's better known classics that seems to flavour McGuinness's latest, so much as O'Neill's oft forgotten Strange Interlude. His Pulitzer Prize winning, experimental play from 1928 which runs for approximately five hours. Giving Groucho Marx reason to parody its indulgent excesses in the 1930 movie Animal Crackers. For Strange Interlude is a curious, introspective work pushing at boundaries. As is Dinner With Groucho.
In Adam Wiltshire's Christmas looking set, all silver baubles and stars in the dark, a seance looks like it's about to take place. Ingrid Craigie, a nameless Proprieter, sits at a table manipulating wines glasses, as if conjuring spirits into a liminal restaurant. Who dutifully appear with a click of her fingers. T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marx having dinner together. A mutual admiration society who kick off with a long, lame joke about duck soup. For seventy minutes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern styled exchanges, half discussion, half wordplay, occasionally raise a chuckle and some things of genuine interest. Discussing poetry, comedy, Shakespeare, Jewishness and anti-semitism, reflections facing death and the serious comedy that's life. To be is not to be, so eat chicken soup and drink champagne for we all die and no one knows if we're going anywhere. Interspersed are some weak magic tricks and sprightly song and dance routines ladled with gloopy nostalgia. Meanwhile the backdrop frequently changes behind them, with Paul Keogan's lights providing mood and magic.
Greg Hicks,Ingrid Craigie, and Ian Bartholomew in Dinner With Groucho. Image uncredited.
Under Loveday Ingram's direction Dinner With Groucho rises to a tired old story about tired old men. Given Greg Hicks impressive domination of both dialogue and stage as Eliot, Dinner With Mr. Eliot might have been a more accurate title. For Ian Bartholomew's Groucho doesn't gel together. Resembling a caricature in a rented costume, worn by a Jewish Rabbi attempting a weak impersonation, lacking timing and presence. Ingrid Craigie, channelling shades of Margaret Dumont, does better, and offers relief by way of an explanatory monologue near the end.
Like the unlit cigars and the wine that isn't there, Dinner with Groucho never quite delivers its punch. A serious comedy light on laughs, it falls short of the standards McGuinness himself sets. But it's McGuinness, so there's still gem moments scattered throughout.
Dinner With Groucho by Frank McGuinness, presented by B*spoke Theatre Company, runs as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2022 at The Civic Theatre, Tallaght till October 1.
For more information visit Dublin Theatre Festival 2022