Just another boring upscale dinner party-alcohol flowing freely, chatter, strong opinions, heated debates, and an almost Stepford hostess fluttering around her guests. Right? Well, if you consider helicopter noises, explosions, and fiery lighting boring and normal then absolutely! You will want to make your way to Silver Spring Stage right now to see their latest production led by Director Bill Hurlbut, Omnium Gatherum by Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros and Theresa Rebeck. It is a production that will make you laugh one moment, think about where your opinions on 9/11 lay the next, and suddenly have you searching for tissues to wipe away tears.
As you walk into the theatre and look at the stage you are welcomed into what appears to be the dining room of a fancy Upper East Side apartment dining room. Set Designer Don Slater and Set Decorator Katherine Offutt have done an impressive job of creating a simple and yet elegant environment, seeming to leave nothing out from rooms leading to other parts of the apartment to all of the pieces of an elegant place setting. Following in the steps of the traditional set, Costume Designers Amy Sullivan and Bill Hurlbut have outfitted the cast in clothes that fit each character’s personality. As the play begins and the cast takes the stage nothing seems amiss in the environment, other than a couple who have clearly never been to a classy dinner party!
Given the elegance and familiarity of the set you expect a traditional sound and lighting design, but Lighting Designer Don Slater and Sound Designer Rich Frangiamore throw some surprises in to make it very clear that this is no ordinary location. Before the show you hear familiar music flowing through the air, once the play starts it is mostly quiet, however there are moments of loud helicopter noises and explosions making you wonder if perhaps there has been an apocalypse and no one has told the guests. But once you see the flashes of red light as doors open, it begins to creep into the mind that perhaps you are a bit farther south than Manhattan and a bit closer to well, Hell itself.
With such a delicate subject being thrown around on stage as the events of 9/11, the play calls for a strong ensemble cast to tackle the wide range of characters and their opinions. Director Bill Hurlbut has indeed found a strong cast, which works wonderfully together, and led them well to bring his vision to life.
The first actor whose lines and presence draw your attention is Lou Pangaro as Khalid a passionate scholar. Pangaro travels expertly through his character’s ups, downs, drunken mishaps, and passionate speeches. He manages to get his character’s emotions across not only through his words but through his actions even when he is silent and listening to others speak. Seated next to the passionate scholar is minister Julia played by Karen Elle. Elle stands by her character’s morals through the entire play portraying a strong woman who wants to be a good guest and argues her want of peace and equality. Elle is also the possessor of one of the funniest moments in the show when her character is persuaded to sing; she has found the honesty in the moment which adds to the humor beautifully!
One of the evening’s more curious guests is Lydia the feminist (and vegan) played by Leigh Rawls. Playing a character who refuses to be known as a victim can often come off as “holier than thou” or bitchy, however you never feel that way towards the character. Rawls has brought out a hard outer shell character who has cracks in her armor, but those cracks shine through to make Lydia more rounded and Rawls lets those cracks show at the perfect moments every time, even if she isn’t speaking. Seated next to Lydia is fireman and recent 9/11 hero Jeff portrayed by Justus Hammond. Admittedly you spend a good portion of the show thinking that everything is going over his head and he’s only there for the food. But that perception of this character is quickly changed by a powerful monologue delivered by Hammond. The emotions that he evokes from that moment on are deep and tissue-worthy. He portrays a very real and very affected character who genuinely cares about his fellow guests.
No dinner party is complete without a proud Brit, who wants to remind you he’s British, that is where Ken Scudder and his character Terence come in. The line “I drink to make other people interesting” tells you a lot about this character. Scudder gives you everything you could ever want from a superior British man; his strong opinions are handled with calm strength but when the right button is pushed that calm gets pushed aside. Every transition in feeling is led up to not only in voice but body language as well. Opposite of Terence in almost every way is Keith Cassidy’s Roger, the proud and loud conservative American writer. If there was ever a character you wanted to tell to just be quiet and eat his dinner it would be Roger. This is mostly due to the stellar performance of Cassidy. He finds the truth and drive behind Roger and isn’t afraid to back down against his fellow actors, getting right up in their faces and driving his voice to make sure he is the one who is heard. His performance is bound to remind you of someone you know, maybe a friend on Facebook or a relative, who is so rooted in their opinions that they can’t hear anyone else.
Your hostess for the evening is Suzie played by Wendy Baird. Baird’s portrayal of Suzie is almost uncomfortable in how perfect and unaware the character is. She rarely, if ever, loses her cool and once in a while has a moment of genius. But mostly she is like Martha Stewart times ten. Baird is wonderful in her role that seems almost as though she was made for it, mothering everyone but always making sure that everything at her party is just right. There is a special guest during the party of a terrorist names Mohammed played by Omar Latiri. Latiri does not occupy the stage for as long as the other actors, but doesn’t need to. The second he steps foot on the stage he commands it, his voice is strong and his intention is clear. One of his strongest moments is a silent stare off with Justus Hammond after a fight, the hatred in Latiri’s eyes can be felt to the back of the room. He may even bring you insight into Mohammad that Suzie was hoping her guests would get.
Omnium Gatherum is not your traditional feel good show, there is humor but also thought and emotion. The opinions and thoughts bounced around through the show are not new and have been heard everywhere since 9/11. However, it is a show that cannot be missed. The delivery and feeling from the cast, as well as the love that director Bill Hurlbut has for the show can be felt in every moment. Make sure to add your souls to Silver Spring Stages collection of peculiar souls at Omnium Gatherum.
Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission.
Omnium Gatherum plays through November 18, 2017 at Silver Spring Stage located in the Woodmoor Shopping Center— 10145 Colesville Road in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets call the box office at 301-593-6036 or purchase them online.