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Randall Theatre stages 'The Dinner Party'

Married five times, American playwright Neil Simon knows about failed relationships.

In his play "The Dinner Party," three men and three women are invited to dine at a Parisian restaurant for mysterious reasons. They gradually realize they are three couples whose marriages have ended in divorce.

Randall Theatre Company is bringing that awkward, unsettling situation to life with its production of Simon's play. "The Dinner Party" opens Friday, June 24, at the theater, 10 E. Third St., Medford. Opening night begins with a 6:30 p.m. reception with food and drinks, followed by the play at 7 p.m. Tickets are $22.

For the rest of the run, tickets are $18. The play begins at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 25; Thursday, June 30; Friday, July 1; Saturday, July 2; Thursday, July 7; Friday, July 8 and Saturday, July 9. Matinee performances are at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 26; Sunday, July 3 and Sunday, July 10.

Tickets are available by calling 541-632-3258 of visiting www.randalltheatre.com. To make theater accessible and affordable for everyone, any remaining tickets will be sold on a pay-what-you-want basis 30 minutes before the start of each performance.

Although Simon is known for his comedies and rapid-fire one-liners, "The Dinner Party" merges farce with drama.

Director Dianna Warner said the actors in the Randall Theatre Company production deeply explored the play through extensive table readings with each other before they switched to staging, when actors move around in a space and work on the physical aspects of a play.

"It was going through the play line by line," she says. "There was a lot of back-and-forth between the couples and exploring questions. What does this character want? Why did the character say that? What happened in the past? What kind of secrets do we get to learn about?"

Unless they marry their high school sweethearts and live happily ever after, most people will experience more break-ups over a lifetime than lasting, permanent relationships.

Warner says the actors tapped into their own experiences of relationships-gone-wrong as they developed their characters. She hopes audience members will identify with the situations portrayed in the play, even if they aren't exactly their own.

"When an actor reveals that realness in the moment, people watching also feel that emotion. When people talk about regret and consequences, other people watching are brought to tears," she says.

The Randall Theatre Company's production of “The Dinner Party” stars Jacob Uhlman, Laura Crawford, Judith Rosen, David Eisenberg, V. Simone Stewart and John Richardson. Warner previously directed the company's all-female production of Simon's play "The Odd Couple."

In a career spanning more than 50 years, Simon has received numerous Tony, Emmy, Golden Globe and Writers Guild of America awards for works such as “The Odd Couple,” “Biloxi Blues,” “The Out-of-Towners” and “The Goodbye Girl,” as well as a Pulitzer Prize for “Lost in Yonkers.” He has received four Academy Award nominations for screenwriting.

"The Dinner Party," which premiered in 1999, is one of Simon's lesser-known plays. It opened to mixed reviews, with some critics finding the mix of comedy and painful subject matter off-putting.

A fan of Simon's work, Randall Theatre Artistic Director Robin Downward says the play is about relationships — why they fail, why they work and whether couples who have broken up can ever be reunited.

“The overarching theme is that we are all different in love, which is why I think this ‘farce-turned-dramedy’ is for everyone" he says. "Audiences can expect some good laughs along with a little sentiment thrown in.”

Simon himself took a stab at remarrying one of the women he had divorced — actress Diane Lander. However, they ended up parting ways after two marriages and more than a decade together.

So does a man who is so unlucky in love have anything to teach the rest of us?

"I think he has very much to teach," Warner says. "We make assumptions about what other people think and what they want. We assign meaning to the things people say and do without knowing or asking what they really meant. We put our own spin on it."

She continues, "What we really need to do is listen to the other person and allow them to be who they are — not who we think they should be. You can't change anybody else. To allow them to be who they are is the best gift you can give to a person."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

David Eisenberg, left, Jacob Uhlman and John Richardson appear in Randall Theatre's 'The Dinner Party.' Photo by Robin Downward