Drama at the Dinner Table: Dysfunctional Dinners on Broadway

By Carey Purcell
November 28, 2013

Playbill.com gets in the holiday spirit by offering a round-up of the most dysfunctional family dinners seen on and Off-Broadway.



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The holidays are here, and with them come large family gatherings – and large family dinners. There's no place like the dinner table for old grudges or new arguments or simply good old craziness to surface, and Broadway has been home to some of the most epic family meals ever seen.

If you need a break from your own relatives this Thanksgiving, we suggest you pay a visit to some of these dinner parties. 

Click through to discover some of the most dysfunctional family dinners the stage has ever seen.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

Dinner is bound to be a little awkward when you've killed off seven relatives of the host and are planning to dispatch of him with the poison in your pocket. This is exactly what happens in a deliciously funny scene in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, which is currently playing the Walter Kerr Theatre. Throw in two sparring spouses and find yourself seated between your fiancée and your married mistress, and the night is sure to be eventful.

Joanna Glushak as Lady Eugenia, Lauren Worsham as Phoebe D'Ysquith, Bryce Pinkham as Monty Navarro, Lisa O'Hare as Sibella Hallward, and Jefferson Mays as Lord Adalbert D'Ysquith
photo by Joan Marcus


August: Osage County

Tracy Letts' drama features a family dinner held following the funeral of the family's patriarch, hosted by the drug-addled mother. She proceeds to insult everyone at the table and expose the secret separation of her daughter and son-in-law, humiliating them both. The dinner soon escalates into a confrontation resulting in actual violence between mother and daughter. And, the weekend isn't over yet!

The cast
photo by Joan Marcus


The Mystery of Edwin Drood

"Which one of you will carve?" has never sounded so ominous; neither has "The goose is cooked!" during a tension-filled Christmas dinner in Rupert Holmes' musical based on Charles Dickens' unfinished murder mystery novel. Each guest is protecting some dark secrets and suspicions about each other, and, as they sing, "No good can come from bad."

The cast
photo by Joan Marcus


A Raisin in the Sun

"Eat your eggs," weary wife Ruth tells her husband Walter in hopes of quieting him when he is talking or they are arguing during Lorraine Hansberry's drama about "a dream deferred." The technique doesn't always work to Ruth's liking; instead of eating his breakfast, Walter knocks it to the floor and begins berating her for not supporting him in the way he needs.

Audra McDonald and Sean Combs
photo by Joan Marcus


Festen

Be careful whom you ask to toast you at family gatherings. David Eldridge's stage adaptation of the Danish film of the same name follows a 60th birthday celebration of a wealthy patriarch, attended by his large family. The party takes a turn for the worse when his grown son gives a "truth speech" revealing he was sexually abused by his father as a child.



The Addams Family

"Full disclosure" is never a good game to play at a family dinner, especially when introducing two families that will soon be in-laws. The members of the Addams Family do just that, revealing scandalous secrets from both families, including unhappy marriages and secret love affairs. The result is one chaotic night. 

The cast
photo by Joan Marcus


Dinner at Eight

This Depression-era play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber features a group of people whose lives are entwined in complicated tangles and financial hardships. All of them are cheating on, lying to or stealing from each other — and also hoping others can help solve their problems. Throw in some sharp-eyed servants with their own ulterior motives, and you have a dinner party that is anything but peaceful.

Absurd Person Singular

Alan Ayckbourn's play about martial despair and yuletide depression takes place on three successive Christmas Eves, set in the kitchen of one of the three couples' holiday parties. Divorce, breakups, suicide attempts and bankruptcy fill the night instead of mistletoe and holly.

Sam Robards and Mireille Enos
photo by Joan Marcus


A Little Night Music

"A weekend in the country" becomes quite eventful when a complicated group of lovers picnics on the lawn, each having brought his or her own desires and suspicions to the dinner. In fact, each plans to seduce, leave or extract revenge on another. The lovers try to keep "control while falling apart," but soon learn that "perpetual anticipation is good for the soul but bad for the heart."

The cast
photo by Joan Marcus


You Can't Take It With You

This dinner results in fireworks — literally — as the two families of young lovers Alice and Tony realize how different they are. Tony's family is old-fashioned and proper, while Alice's eccentric relatives don't believe in paying taxes or organized religion, but do believe in freedom of speech and explosives, amongst other things.