You’re throwing a dinner party. And you know that despite your best efforts at making sure the cheese plate and finger sandwiches are perfect, as soon as the alcohol starts flowing, the night is sure to be less than perfect.
That’s the premise for Matthew Freeman’s Why We Left Brooklyn (The Dinner Party Play). The play’s two main characters, Michelle and Jason, are a married couple hosting a dinner party to mark their departure from the Park Slope apartment they’ve inhabited for the past eight years. Jason (Andrew Schwartz) is finally throwing in the towel on his acting dreams and moving to Columbus, Ohio to become an adjunct professor. But while Jason’s feeling jaded and dejected about his original life-plan, his wife Michelle (Susan Louis O’Connor) has finally landed the book deal she’s always wanted. The plan is for Michelle to stay with their friends George, (David DelGrosso) and wife Franny (Marguerite Stimpson) to finish publicity for the book before joining Jason in Ohio. From the beginning, it’s clear that there is tension surrounding this temporary long-distance relationship.
The dinner party guests include George and Franny, former schoolmate Charlie (played by Matthew Trumbull in a delightfully quirky and endearing way), and Nicole (Moira Stone), a blunt but humorous mother of one who describes children as things which, “destroy your body, your sex life" and "turn you into an object of scorn and judgment.” But despite her insistence that twins would make her, “tear out my fucking eyes,” you get the feeling that she’s hiding a softer side behind her caustic exterior.
Also in the boxed-up Brooklyn apartment are Leanna (Sarah K. Lippmann), a wannabe writer going back to school for interior design, and boyfriend Harry (Jay Leibowitz), a chef at a popular new restaurant.
Finally, there’s Dawn (Rebecca Gray Davis) who feels unfulfilled at her job at a museum, and boyfriend Sanjeet (Imran Sheikh), an analyst who clearly isn’t in his element with this group, though he’s liked by all for his friendly, laid-back demeanor. Each character has a strong personality and a seemingly strong bond with Jason and Michelle. All except for Dawn and Sanjeet.
While the staging and blocking did nothing to draw the audience in, the dialogue was always quick and witty, though in real life I’ve never experienced an intoxicated group of individuals so adept at maintaining a single conversation.
The group dynamic was natural and despite being a two-hour play set in one room, the relatable and comedic banter kept the show moving. Throughout the three acts, the mood slowly changes as the dinner guests become drunk and as Jason’s departure draws closer. Instead of ragging on Charlie for forgetting a lime when buying Coronas or questioning the merits of yoga, the conversation switches to how the word “fresh” implies a sense of entitlement, which Jason accuses half his friends of possessing. George accuses Jason of being a quitter and giving up on his dream prematurely. Looming over conversations about President Barack Obama, Celiac Disease as the next fad diet, heirloom tomatoes and New York bagels, is the question of whether or not Jason and Michelle still want the same things in life. And what’s the difference between accepting reality, growing up and running away from your problems?
Why We Left Brooklyn is worth a visit, for the way the ensemble brings these vibrant characters to life and for the way dialogue leaves you able to tell exactly which ones you would be friends with in real life. Though certainly full of laughs, what we learn from these 10 characters’ stories is profound. Some dreams come true. Some dreams will never be realized. And sometimes, dreams change.