YOU’RE INVITED TO DINNER
REVIEW: MUTUAL PHILANTHROPY
BY RYAN M. LUÉVANO
It’s a shame that people don’t attend more plays than they do movies or sporting events because Karen Rizzo’s new play Mutual Philanthropy is a work that everyone should experience. The premise of her play is simple: two couples from different socioeconomic backgrounds have dinner together—that’s it. However, this simple premise becomes a vehicle for something greater as each of these characters unravels right before our eyes as drinks are served and a shocking proposition is laid on the table.
What makes this play even more effective is the intimate space housed in Atwater Village Theatre complex that puts the audience front and center. The beautiful set designed by Amanda Knehans spills right into the audience so that no matter where you sit you are resigned to be a fly on the wall or a voyeur watching up close. Director Dan Bonnell’s pacing of the play is impeccable; he takes us through this 90-minute play like a rollercoaster ride following Rizzo’s internal pacing. We get all the exposition and set-up of the normal world then with one swift kick the action of the play be accelerates, leading us to a steady and disquieting finish.
The ensemble of Mutual Philanthropy is superb—anyone will be able to relate to one or more of these characters because they represent your family, neighbors or friends. Xochitl Romero as Esther is the hardworking Latina who does everything she can to keep her family afloat—she’s focused, strong and always in control. Her husband Lee (Mark Carapezza) is the struggling artist type, a boy in a man’s body—a perfect counter to Esther; he’s capricious and proud. Charles (James MacDonald) is the wealthy investment banker and predator who believes that money can buy him anything he desires—MacDonald is intriguingly stoic in this performance. His wife Michelle (Brea Bee) is the wealthy housewife with too much time on her hands, in search of purpose and attention. Bee plays this role sublimely and her breakdown as the play progresses is daunting and intense.
Mutual Philanthropy turns a home into a boxing ring, locks all the doors and once the bell rings the fight begins. Rizzo’s new play is poignant and contemporary, revealing truths about our society that we either deny, fail to realize or fully take advantage. Just like the recurring theme of cat and bird in the play, it all comes down to a struggle between strong and weak where mutual philanthropy may or may not exist.
Skip the movie or Dodger’s game and take someone special to see the world premiere of Mutual Philanthropy—guaranteed, the conversation after the play will be more exciting than anything else can provide.
Mutual Philanthropy runs at 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays, 3pm and 7pm on Sundays (with added performances at 8pm on Thursday September 15th and September 22nd) through September 25, 2016. Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA is located in the Atwater Village Theatre Complex, 3269 Casitas Ave. LA, CA 90039. Reservations: $19.95 ($28 at the door, $14.95 Students must show student ID at the door) at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2581024 and 818-839-1197.