Omnium Gatherum

Presented by the Santa Barbara City College Theatre Group. At SBCC's Jurkowitz Theatre, Friday, May 2. Shows through May 17.

Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar, Jon Koons, Tania Israel, Richard Hoag, and Sandarbh Tripathi in a moment of conflict from <em>Omnium Gatherum</em>.
Rick Mokler

This stimulating play recasts the familiar dinner party premise as a kind of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for the aftermath of September 11th. Suzie, played with wonderful wit and comic timing by Ann Dusenberry, hosts a very opinionated group of friends for a fancy meal at her elegant home. Having made her fortune as a caterer and celebrity chef, Suzie has friends like Roger (Richard Hoag), a best-selling novelist who appears to be patterned on Tom Clancy, and Terence (Jon Koons), a terrifically clever, thoroughly wine-sodden Cambridge graduate who thinks he knows everything. As the show opens, Suzie serves an exquisite amuse-bouche while Khalid (Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar) expounds on a statistical thought experiment: If the world were to retain its existing ratios and at the same time be reduced to a single small village of exactly 100 people, only one of those people would be a college graduate, 80 would be illiterate, and so on. The point is not so much Khalid’s as the playwright’s. The dinner is itself a microcosm, an “omnium gatherum” that can only end when all the world’s representatives find a seat at the table.

Clockwise from bottom left: Jon Koons, Katie Thatcher, Josh Jenkins, Ann Dusenberry, Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar, Tania Israel, and Richard Hoag in SBCC Theatre Group's <em>Omnium Gatherum</em>.
Rick Mokler

The minimal staging is remarkably effective. A revolving panel beneath the large round dinner table moves slowly throughout the evening, bringing different performers into and out of the center stage spotlight and recalling the Earth’s daily rotation on its axis. Against the background of a sumptuous meal and this insistent but barely perceptible circular motion, the group’s heavily politicized discussion roars, thunders, and shrieks. Lydia, splendidly played by Katie Thatcher, is just the kind of vegan feminist to set off Roger’s chauvinistic fulminations, yet she is not quite what she appears. The same goes for Julia (Tania Israel), who surprises everyone by offering up a truly dreadful song by way of overcoming an anxiety attack.

The twist at the end brings the meal’s quietest guest, Jeff (Josh Jenkins), into conflict with the last to arrive, Mohammed (Sandarbh Tripathi). Without giving away too much, it can be said that these revelations take the show’s exploration of the unexpected and improbable to another level entirely. Although the ending may not satisfy the appetites provoked by Omnium Gatherum‘s enthralling banquet of debate, director Rick Mokler and his sterling cast deserve a lot of credit here for creating an exceptionally enjoyable evening of theater.

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