Not just another dinner party play: Ominous Sounds calls theatrical representation into question

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Ominous Sounds at the River Crossing; or, Another Fucking Dinner Party Play | Touchstone Theatre | Performance Works | March 6-13, 2022 | Streaming March 22 – April 10, 2022

“It’s just what we need in the year of our demise: another fucking dinner party play,” says a disgruntled actor in a moment of self-awareness. “We perform a stale little psycho-drama while nature collapses around us.” But this isn’t just another dinner party play; it’s a clever examination of the nuances and complexities about who has a right to tell which stories in contemporary theatre.

Scenes alternate between the dinner party itself and the actors discussing how to approach the dinner party and whether they can reshape it to be more inclusive and reflective of social and environmental problems. Jason Sherman’s script is full of lines that make us think about the role and responsibility of theatre to tell important stories. It would be worth seeing more than once to catch all the moments that so pointedly call out our own hypocrisies, such as a husband saying to his wife, “It’s alright honey, we can keep our Prime account.”

The five dinner party guests each contribute the issues they’d like to see addressed in the play: robotics, mistreated factory workers, race, #metoo, mansplaining, toxic masculinity, and climate change. Once they have their “laundry list of societal ills” they return to their rehearsal to try to incorporate them all into the action.

A teenage girl (Angela Chu) sits off to one side staring at her phone during the first few scenes. At one point she’s asked for her opinion and says, “I don’t speak until later.” She turns out to be their conscience and social barometer as she films them, tells them how they should approach certain material, and explains that young people are rising up to make the world a better place. “You have no right to steal people’s stories,” she says.  

One of the others responds by saying that if we could only tell stories from our own experience, everything would be a memoir told in front of a mirror. So where is the balance between creative freedom, responsibly telling stories based on the experiences of others, and ensuring their representation is accurate and appropriate? We aren’t provided a clear answer but instead faced with many questions about representation, identity, and equity.

At one point, the actors agree that in their rehearsal they are not their bodies but blank slates ready to represent the characters they’re playing. Of course, that approach isn’t very realistic either. We can’t ignore physical differences, and some casting practices may result in marginalized actors being passed over. In the end, we must acknowledge our differences while honouring each other’s stories. Sometimes there is a right and wrong way to tell a story, and someone who is best positioned to tell it.

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