The play, which has as a surprise dinner guest a terrorist who brought horror to Manhattan, provoked thought, prompted some anger (there have been walkouts due to the subject matter) and earned laughter and applause for its ambition.
It opened Sept. 25 following a premiere at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville earlier this year. Previews in New York began Sept. 9.
Omnium opened almost simultaneously with two other 9/11-themed Off-Broadway plays: Portraits at the Union Square Theatre and Recent Tragic Events at Playwrights Horizons. Though its run was shorter than expected, Omnium was the longest lived.
The play was born shortly after the terrorist attacks of 2001. In the days following Sept. 11, Rebeck and Gersten Vassilaros, longtime friends, watched countless hours of CNN and talked about the events and the way they were being interpreted by television's army of talking heads. Soon the heated discussions and debates between the playwrights flowed into a drama, in which the Western World's intellectual elite gather at a hellish dinner party to hash out the world's problems over several cases of red and white. After several readings and workshops, Omnium Gatherum caught critics and producers' attention at the 2003 Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville this past March. The New York cast includes many of the Louisville production's stars. Kristine Nielsen plays Suzie, the dizzy, Martha Stewart-like hostess, who asks her guests to change their focus from anti-Semitism to her Belgian endive salad. Dean Nolen is the boozing, well spoken, but flip British journalist, based on Christopher Hitchens. Phillip Clark, the table's belligerent hawk and neocon, is a thinly masked version of macho thriller author Tom Clancy. Taking his lead from Palestinian scholar Edward Said, meanwhile, is Edward J. Hajj, the lone Arab at the feast.
Rounding out the guest list are Jenny Bacon's feminist, vegan, lactose intolerant, walnut eschewing, pregnant PETA member; Melanna Gray's African-American, tone deaf author; Joseph Lyle Talbot's quiet, well-mannered fireman; and, finally, Amir Arison, as Suzie's idea of a fun surprise guest.
The octet sails through food and drink-fueled conversations about such contentious topics as the Israel-Palestine conflict; America's globalistic and capitalistic policies and their repercussions; the decadence of well appointed bathrooms; the alleged cruelty of carnivorous diets; the world's uneven distribution of wealth; Islamic fundamentalism; nuclear war; terrorism; the feasibility of world peace; and the culpability of the New York Times. Occasionally, the group takes break to chat about "Star Trek," gossip about infidelities, eat Saltines and compliment the chef.
Will Frears, the director at Louisville (and son of film director Stephen Frears), repeats his work in New York. David Rockwell, designer of many trendy Manhattan bistros, designed a quirky set which wouldn't look out of place in one of his restaurants. The producers of the New York mounting are Robert Cole, Joyce Johnson and Max Cooper, in association with Charles Flateman/Kerrin Behrend and Jujamcyn Theaters.
Tickets are $66.25. For information, call (212) 239-6200.