Virginia Woolf’s 1931 novel The Waves, which is considered to be her most experimental work, weaves the story of seven childhood friends through first-person soliloquies that flow seamlessly between the past and the present. That same summary could also describe a handful of theatre productions that have come through Toronto over the last few years, so a theatrical adaptation of The Waves is not completely surprising. Actually, it makes a lot of sense.
It should be similarly unsurprising, then, that The Waves gave one of Toronto’s best-known physical-theatre companies its start in 2001. Dinner at Seven-Thirty, conceived by Theatre Rusticle’s artistic director Allyson McMackon, was the company’s first self-produced show. Since then, the company has mounted acclaimed works like April 14, 1912; Birnam Wood; and last year’s Peter and the Wolf. Twelve years later, McMackon is remounting Dinner at Seven-Thirty, which deals with the lives of a group of friends, reunited in the countryside to remember a friend who has passed away. The play will have a short run at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, with a new—and mostly very strong—cast.
A standout performer is the ever-reliable Hume Baugh. As The Late Man (all names have been stricken from this adaptation), Baugh is the closest thing to a narrator in the play, and a captivating one he is. A sentimental family man who often professes his love for his wife, son, dog, and home, he strives to document every small moment of the reunion in writing. These passages are poetic, revealing, and beautifully performed. Another highlight is Thomas Morgan Jones as The Man in the Suit. Not only is his outfit supremely sharp and bright—an achievement of costume designer R. Kelly Clipperton—his performance is touchingly frail as the bullied friend in the group, who eventually finds peace and passion in office work. Andrya Duff has a weighty heart as The Woman with Stones in Her Pocket, but her way of moving around the stage is conversely light and watery.
The costumes by Clipperton, the set by Lindsay Anne Black, the lighting by Michelle Ramsay, and the behind-the-scenes work by McMackon create some stunning images, but sometimes fall into silly cliches, which are difficult to avoid when you have adults stomping around like kids on a playground. Lucy Rupert is, at times, downright agonizing as The Woman from the City, the cliche of a party girl who can’t find real love. Other characters are well performed, but emotionally impenetrable. Their speeches and movements, frankly, flew right over our heads.
It’s best to think of Dinner at Seven-Thirty as a multi-course meal. Some dishes hit the spot, others are acquired tastes. But it’s still one worth ordering. After all, haven’t you promised yourself that you’ll try anything once?