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Producer Joseph Stern

a new comedy by James Lapine
directed by Sam Weisman

Original Cast (in Order of Appearance)

Richard Bey
Valerie Curtin
James Sutorius
Claudia Lonow
Helen Verbit
Stuart Rogers
Shelley Batt
Paul Sparer
Younger Son
Older Son
Voice Over

Later Cast (in Order of Appearance)

Andrew Bloch
Nancy Stephens
Mark Lonow
Michele Laurita
Bunny Summers
Evan Richards
Pilar Garcia
Paul Sparer
Younger Son
Older Son
Voice Over

Settings by Russell Pyle
Lighting by Gerry Hariton & Vicki Baral
Costumes by Charles Berliner
Stage Manager - Steve Donner

PHOTOS by I.C. Rapoport
Click on the photos to see them larger

Top, L-R: Shelly Batt, Richard Bey; Bottom: Stuart Rogers

Top row, L-R:James Sutorius, Valerie Curtin, Helen Verbit, Shelly Batt, Richard Bey
Bottom row, L-R: Stuart Rogers, Claudia Lonow

James Sutorius & Valerie Curtin

Donna McKechnie ("Cassie" from the original Broadway cast of "A Chorus Line")
stepped into the role of "Wife" later in the run.


excerpt from STAGE NEWS, L.A. Times:

Joe Stern: "It's a surrealistic Jewish comedy of manners."

Sam Weisman: "Don't say that."

Stern and Weisman are artistic partners in bringing out the West Coast premiere of "Table Settings," a comedy by James Lapine that opens at the Matrix Theater on Saturday. Stern is producing. He's sunk $40,000, by his own estimate, into refurbishing the Matrix. It has new seats and carpeting, a thrust stage and a $25,000 lighting system that can be computer-operated ("We could bring a Broadway show in here"). He wants the best at the Equity-waiver level. He even canceled a production of "Modigliani" earlier this year because it wasn't up to snuff.

Weisman, who is a solid part of the Actors for Themselves group now ensconced at the Matrix, is making his West Coast directorial debut with "Table Settings." It was well received at the Playwrights Horizon in New York last season, but less so in Chicago and Montreal, where Lapine was suspected of being clever at his characters' expense.

"What he does is take the Jewish stereotypes for what they are—stereotypes—and then he pushes deeper," said Weisman. "It's an episodic comedy that looks at three generations of a Jewish family, and shows how far apart people are in their needs. It has its own style. It's very offbeat in the way it uses them. I think the closest writer in spirit to Lapine is Jules Feiffer." Weisman reports that "Table Settings" was written in a blaze of creative intensity that lasted two weeks.

Stern hopes to put Neal Bell's "Two Small Bodies" into a rep schedule with "Table Settings" in April.

THEATRE L.A., Feb/Mar 1983 (Vol. 1, Issue 2)
"Not Just Luck," by Linda Seger

Los Angeles is known as an actor's and a writer's town: So it's not unusual to hear people lament the lack of directing talent -- and applaud the emergence of any new director who attracts sold-out audiences and laudatory notices. One such director is Sam Weisman. His two Los Angeles productions, Table Settings by James Lapine and Betrayal by Harold Pinter, ran to sold-out houses and rave reviews. There has not been a waiver show in LA that's sold as many seats as these two Actors for Themselves productions at the Matrix.

How is a new director, with little directing background, able to create such phenomenal success? There's a temptation to call it "luck," or "being in the right place at the right time," or "having opportunities with a bit of talent." But two such successes are obviously not just luck. It's no accident that Sam Weisman is able to create such extraordinary pieces of theatre. His background as an actor, along with a rich education and natural talent, contribute to his ability to think through a play, to elicit strong performances from his actors, and to organize all the varied elements which must fit so precisely to create the special magic of theatre.

As an undergraduate at Yale, Sam majored in English and music history. His musical background contributed to his good ear for the voice of a character, his feeling for pace and rhythm, his ability to create a precise and well-integrated production.

He continued graduate work in acting and directing at Brandeis University with additional acting study in New York. He describes all his teachers as practical and literate people who taught him to think through a concept and to express it dramatically. "I've been lucky, since my teachers made me aware of the entire spectrum of acting," he told Theatre LA in a recent interview at his contemporary-furnished home overlooking Beverly Glen. "In New York I studied with Michael Howard who taught me a Method type of acting. His great strength lay in his ability to sit in a room and watch an actor whom he had never seen before, and zero in on this actor's problem. I studied with him for two or three years, then with Ted Kazanoff at Brandeis who paid such incredible attention to each detail. Then I worked with a voice teacher, Marge Phillips, who gave me relaxation techniques, taught me to color words, and how to approach a part from both ends — inside and outside. Stanley Rosenberg, another teacher at Brandeis, taught me how to physicalize a role."

Sam admits that his skill as a director depends on his background as an actor. As Sam sees it, all actors have their own particular problems. Some actors always have to be on top of a role and are unwilling to show weakness in a character. Others always approach the character from a vulnerable place, sentimentalizing the part or accentuating certain eccentricities.

In neither case is the actor doing what needs to be done. Most have a problem with tension. Rosenberg taught Sam how to relieve tension through breathing, and he passes this technique on to his actors. "Breathing is one of the great tools of an actor," he stresses. "As a director, I would talk to experienced actors and have to tell them to breathe. I would encourage them to breathe during those silent moments on stage. Not only does it add size and focus to the role, but it feeds the emotional life."

In Los Angeles, Sam has been working with Peggy Feury for the past few years, learning to approach a text, interpret a character, and understand writing styles.

His cumulative training has served him well in his work with actors, yet acting training was not enough. Sam is more than an actor's director. He has an ability to take a theatrical image, to check everything against a central idea. Without his sense of theatrical rules and images, styles and ideas, his concepts would fall apart. So Sam pays great attention to detail. "I always felt that I had an instinct to get it exactly the way I wanted it, that I had an inner road map, and an ability to make each individual moment add up to something meaningful," he says. "Too often plays and films have money and a great look, but nothing ties together so you wonder why they wanted to do the play in the first place."

Both of the plays he chose to direct in Los Angeles presented challenges which demanded skill at thinking through a concept and resolving specific problems. Table Settings was a comedy with some success in New York, but was never a commercial hit anywhere else. It is a series of short scenes set around the family table, a kind of Jewish sitcom sans plot. Sam immediately felt it could be a big hit, but also that it would be difficult to "get right." He explains that the comedy of the play had to be approached obliquely. And casting was difficult. "It was hard finding people whom I thought had the size to do the play," he notes. "By size, I mean personal size, actors who can command attention, who are willing to do what is essentially an ensemble comedy." Betrayal presented challenges of creating a special image and making Pinter's particular style accessible. Pinter's play is about a woman who becomes involved with her husband's best friend. Sam develops the idea of the play by using a strong theatrical image, an image of the entire play taking place under shafts of light, light coming through doorways, light coming underneath doors. It is a play about a private action that has vast repercussions: Pinter uses the unusual technique of placing the first scene of the action at the end of the play. The play progresses backwards, removing layer after layer to get back to the moment of decision-making. To build this image, Sam draws on his musical background. He had music composed for the show which begins with a simple theme, develops into complex variations and returns to the simple theme at the end.

In spite of Sam's training and success, he knows a career needs the constant growth that comes from new challenges. He feels frustrated with the theatre scene in Los Angeles, with the lack of good new material which offers universal meanings. "Most of the new plays aren't about anything," he notes. "I think we've lost sight of story and idea. Most plays coming out don't echo anything universal. Everyone is so closed now, so segmented, no one comes together, there's nothing shared. That's why it's difficult to do good theatre — because there's no common ground."

Even with the right play, it is difficult to find team players, actors and designers who are willing to work together, to trust each other, to commit to the project. "In the noncommercial situation in LA," he says, "it is a monumental task to make a production happen — to try to bring together actors who will work for no money and other creative people who work for little money. Joe Stern at the Matrix really makes an effort to bring these people together." Sam questions whether audiences understand the significance of pulling together a first-rate Equity-waiver production, if they recognize the accomplishment and what has gone into creating this labor of love.

So, if he could have it any way he desired, what would Sam Weisman want? He reflects: "A building, a light grid, good seats, a good sound system, people who are willing to commit, and the opportunity to do a broad range of plays, from Shakespeare to Moliere to American plays of the 1930s and 1940s, to new and exciting works. But most of all, the opportunity."

Also read "Sam Weisman: Opera's Loss is Theatre's Gain" from Drama-Logue


L.A. Times, Sunday, April 12, 1981


A cynic might describe the family as an institution dedicated to driving its members crazy. Yet it must have something going for it, or why (for instance) would all those Oscar winners have taken up so much time thanking their mothers, fathers and sisters back in Alabama?

It is one of those necessary human arrangements that the race has never made up its mind about. The tendency in the theater has been to take the dark view. Aristotle in "The Poetics" recommends the family matrix as ideal for tragedy-maximum love, maximum rage, maximum opportunity. The playwrights have agreed. Think of "The House of Atreus" or "Hamlet" or "Ghosts" or "Long Day's Journey" or "The Homecoming" or "Buried Child." Family here is inseparable from family curse.

There is a kinder stage tradition, too. It presents home as the great good place, with Mother and Father the source of all virtue and wisdom. Evil is whatever threatens the "family. The American stage is rife with examples, from 19th-century homestead melodrama to "Ah, Wilderness" (the family O'Neill wished he had grown up in) to Thornton Wilder's plays. It's also one of network TV's kinder fictions, as in "The Waltons," "Little House on the Prairie" and "Eight Is Enough."

Los Angeles has just seen two plays that went about as far as you can go, on the one hand, to canonize the family, and, on the otheir to dump-on it. On the positive side, we had "Turn to the Right," in which a stalwart son helps his sainted mother and virtuous sister save the family peach orchard Even for a piece set in 1914, it seemed a bit idealized. On the other side, "Prairie Avenue" showed us an unbalanced son burning the neighborhood down to get back at his pig of a father for slapping his whining Ma around. There was a lot of idealization going on here, too—in reverse.

A play that told the truth about family life would have to be mixed. It would have to deal with its doubleness: how you can feel part of a family yet alone in it. It would have to deal with the usualness of family life, its regular run of mealtimes and bedtimes. It could use an ear for the funny things that family members say to each other, especially when they're being earnest. And it could convey another double truth. This family will die. The family will persist.

James Lapine's "Table Settings" at the Matrix touches on all these matters without getting soggy and universal. Its first interest is getting laughs, and it doesn't mind being a little broad to do so. Call it a Jewish family sitcom, without the plot. It's simply a series of short scenes around the family table, not always in the same apartment, and not always related to eating. We don't miss the story. We can read what's happened to the family since the last meal, by what's said at this one.

For humor, the play owes a lot to Mrs. Portnoy and all. the other Jewish mothers and sons in recent fiction. It also is in debt to 20 years of TV family comedy. There's even the scene where Daddy tells Daughter that over his dead body is she going out that door with her neckline cut down to there. We have seen a lot of this before.

So? Life is imitating TV every day of the week. Lapine figures that if he can draw his characters and situations sharply enough he can get both what's typical and what's unique about them; and generally, he brings it off. He even makes the familiarity of these lives an expressive element. His characters feel like clichés to themselves, and they don't like it. Who wants to be a stereotype?

The mother—grandmother, by now, with her husband dead and her sons grown—has some wonderful chats with us about this. She came from Minsk as a girl, and she still remembers how cold it was there—the cold standing for more than the weather. She has seen a few things in life, more than her sophisticated children have, and it offends her to be written off as a cartoon.

What's so funny about wanting to see your sons eating enough and married to nice Jewish girls? I don't know, but it's impossible not to laugh as Helen Verbit goes through the age-old patterns of worry and joy over her kids and their kids. Take the scene where her granddaughter (Claudia Lonow) announces that she has finally had her first menstrual period, known to all as "it." Verbit celebrates this milestone by briskly slapping the girl in the face in the traditional fashion, and running off in tears to think' that she never had a daughter of her own to welcome thus to womanhood. Is this her son's fault? No, but James Sutorius absurdly starts to feel guilty. Families.

Sutorius plays the responsible older married son, killing himself down at his law office all day and drinking too many martinis to unwind before dinner. You can see the heart attack coming, but it is not the sort of play that deals in heart attacks. It's about trying to make the kids quit fighting at the table. Sutorius and his wife Valerie Curtin mostly can't.

Curtin's biggest problem is that she isn't Jewish—not that her mother-in-law throws it up to her, but she feels she doesn't quite belong. In their private moments, though, it's seen that everybody in the family feels miscast and mis-perceived. Nobody understands what I go through day after day. . . .

Everybody has his pet fear. Verbit is afraid they'll ship her off to Miami. Stuart Rogers, as the 13-year-old grandson with the Bar Mitzvah coming up, is afraid he will always be this small. He keeps disappearing into his "cave" under the table, the way his uncle did as a kid— which the uncle, pushing 30, still does. How long does it take for a young man to find himself?

Richard Bey, an amiable druggie, appears to be less worried about his future than everybody else, but we sense the family conscience at work from within. He may be on the verge of getting his act together, especially if the "right girl" should come along. Shelly Batt—a psychiatric social worker with all the words —does not want to get mixed up with this jerk. But she may have been assigned to the role by the life force. Chemistry is destiny.

There's a nice Darwinian ruthlessness to that. "Table Settings" respects its characters, but its basic interest is in the force field set up by the family, whose energy is seen as something more than the sum of its members' input. It is bigger, even, than Mama, and Papa is still involved in it, through the sons. Interesting, to see how it works. And if this family dies, there are a billion others. If a play can be warm and impersonal at once, that's "Table Settings."

I'd been warned off the New York production as being crass and shticky. That doesn't at all apply to Sam Weisman's production at the Matrix. Even when the action gets a bit silly—Sutorius in black sox and bathrobe playing the sex tiger— the actors never drop their concern, and the laughs come against their wishes. Nobody wants to live in a sitcom.

There are a couple of problems. Young Rogers as the Bar Mitvah boy does tend to grab a little, from inexperience. Verbit on opening night had to look for lines that should have come unbidden. Curtin as the shiksa wife confuses us by looking exactly like the smart Jewish girl that Sutorius should have married. Has she been taking ethnic lessons?

Those are details only. "Table Settings" has class, all the way down to Russell Pyle's dining-room set. It could have poked fun at the family. Instead it's severe, suggesting a household with standards, however threatened. Too many plays in Los Angeles are merely presented. This one is produced. Joseph Stern and William Devane, also known as Actors for Themselves, get the credit.

Second L.A. Times review


Have you ever noticed how much of our lives we spend at the table, and how many other things we do there besides eat?

Possibly you have, but it took James Lapine to see that there was a play in it. Lapine's comedy, "Table Settings," did very nicely Off Broadway last season and should prove just as popular at the Matrix Theater. It's original, it's well-observed and it gives its characters some credit.

That's not always the case when a young American writer sits down to do a family play. Lapine, though, has an agreeable way of not putting himself above the people he's satirizing. Broad as the comedy gets, everybody in "Table Settings" has feelings, which can be hurt. This, of course, adds to the fun.

The central gimmick of the play is fun. We're gathered around a. dining room table for a family meal. But not always the same table or the same meal. Sometimes we're at Grandmother's. (That's all you're going to eat?) Sometimes we're at Daughter-in-Law's. (Elbows off the table.) And sometimes we're in a restaurant. (Nothing here appeals tome.).

Thornton Wilder used a like device in a play called "The Long Christmas Dinner" in order to portray the rise and fall of a rich New England family. Wilder's people, however, were thin-blooded Yankees who tended not to speak until spoken to. A little more white meat, Aunt Grace? Please.

Lapine's people are a modern big-city Jewish family who tend to get upset with each other rather easily, and to verbalize it. The leitmotif of the play is: "Can't we have one meal around here in peace?"

The star of the family is the Grandmother, a stylish-stout who does all the things that Jewish Mothers are supposed to do. She forces her sponge cake on people, goes on and on about stomach cancer and frequently wonders out loud when her youngest son is going to find himself—and find himself a wife.

The difference is that she knows she's a social stereotype. You think that's a comfort? Who wants to be a cliche? On the other hand—and actress Helen Verbit makes this very clear—she is a lady of great self-respect. She knows the world. Life is not all microwave ovens and dancing lessons. Any society that makes a joke out of her is some half-baked society!

James Sutorius plays Her-Son-the-Lawyer. He knocks himself out at the office all day long—you can see the pressure in his face—and all he asks is a little quiet when he comes home. Failing that, he'll take a martini. Or more than one. By the end of the play he has kicked martinis for jogging, and we are surprisingly glad for him. Here's another cartoon with a person behind it.

He is married to Valerie Curtin, who tries to be perfectly calm at all times. She is the ideal Daughter-in-Law in all respects but one—she's a shiksa. Grandmother tries not to hold this against her but we can feel the pressure here too. The kids are Stuart Rogers, who worries about being such a shrimp at 13, and Claudia Lonow, who worries about being the last girl in her class to have her period. They are deep into sibling rivalry. Did so. Did not. Did so. Did not. Uh, kids. Want to stop?

The family's only laid-back member is Grandmother's second son, the bum. Well, not bum. He just hasn't found his métier. (Meanwhile, he's doing drugs.) Richard Bey makes him an amiable layabout who well might find a focus for his life, given the right wife, but also might just make her crazy.

Shelly Batt is the girl at the moment, a psychiatric social worker who used to be a little crazy herself, and suspects that this guy is a real loser. On the other hand, she's getting attached to him. For all her textbook jargon, Batt is as much a creature of circumstances as everybody else in the play, and life will decide whether they get married.

Like "The Long Christmas Dinner" it's a play about process and cycles. It's also like five years of a sitcom series chopped into kibbles and linked with cute voice-over titles. When somebody asks, "Whatever happened to Ozzie and Harriet?" a fair answer might be: "This show."

But there's a truth to that, if you've ever felt you were being held prisoner in your own personal family sitcom. "Table Settings" realizes that you can't build a good cliché without truth—that girls do go out to their first prom after a fight with Daddy about the cut of their dress. Lapine's play is TV and life at once, and director Sam Weisman has had his players find both what's typical in their characters and what's unique. You'll recognize this table.

Technical credits are first-rate, by the way—Russell Pyle's solid family dining room; Gerry Hariton's and Vicki Baral's varied light patterns (helpful in distinguishing what parts of the play are fantasy); Charles Berliner's costumes. Grandmother's orchid corsage in the restaurant scene is just out of the florist's freezer, a typically careful detail.

"Table Settings" plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. Sundays, at the Matrix Theater, 7657 Melrose Ave., 852-1445. Tickets: $7.50.

P.S. The front of the theater has been so ferned and cuted-up that you could drive past several times before realizing that it isn't a kitchen boutique called "Table Settings." Persist.

Third L.A. Times review, July 12, 1981

excerpted from

"Table Settings" has been on the Calendar Best Bets list for weeks. I went back to the Matrix Theater to see an actress new to the show—Donna McKechnie, so terrific in "A Chorus Line." She's terrific here, too, in a quieter way. She plays the WASP daughter-in-law in a "typical" Jewish family. The original actress seemed just the girl the mother-in-law would have picked for her son. McKechnie's much closer to what playwright James Lapine must have had in mind.

She gives us a cheerful (if it kills her) young wife who approaches life as she would a Junior League project, and is not on the same wavelength as little boys who hide under the table for comfort and old ladies who adore talking about their best friends' diseases.

At the same time, she loves her family and feels responsible for them—she's got to be their merry little sunbeam, chasing the darkness away. McKechnie's as droll and dear here as Mary Tyler Moore used to be in the newsroom, without imitating Moore. We have got to stop thinking of her as mainly a dancer. She's also a dancer.

Other cast changes, especially among the men, make "Table Settings" not quite so sharp now as when it opened. But a critic friend from out of town (granted, a music critic) laughed his head off and pronounced the performances excellent. If the out-of-towners are risking Los Angeles' smaller theaters, the natives should think about it, too.

L.A. Weekly, March 27-April 2, 1981 - PICK OF THE WEEK


James Lapine's comedy is pure pleasure, beautifully produced (by Joseph Stern), imaginatively directed (by Sam Weisman) and well-acted. The play has an interesting, episodic structure. Vignettes all take place around the dinner table — the very soul of Jewish family life - nicely threaded together and usually announced by an offstage voice that sounds exactly like Don Pardo himself. The titles - "Flanken," "How Was Your Day?," "The Bar Mitzvah," "Sweet and Sour," "Dessert," are comments on the proceedings as much as descriptions of what's about to happen. The characters are unabashed stereotypes with names like "Sonny," "Cookie," "Buddy" and "Alice's Sister." The Jewish grandmother even complains about the plight of a living stereotype, but don't mind her, "How would you like a delicious piece of cake?" These people talk at each other, occasionally to each other, and often they make plaintive appeals to the audience. After all, "nobody understands me, nobody even tries." And nobody who grew up in a Jewish family, as I did, could fail to empathize with this delightful play It is very, very funny because it is almost always right on target. And the actors and director have managed to play it just right, never too straight, never too broad. Whatever your ethnic background, you'll enjoy Table Settings, it's as professionally done as anything you're likely to find in any theater in town, large or small.

The Hollywood Reporter, Monday, March 30, 1981


Director Sam Weisman, facing an intricate and challenging dramatic structure, captures with deftness and clarity the familial peregrinations around a dinner table in this West Coast premiering comedy by James Lapine.

Gliding through three generations, and anchored in place by a family table as the source of humor and conflict, the production takes a stereotypical Jewish household and creates a nimble, artful and infectious experience.

The reward is observing the banalities and ordinary crises of a family within a theatrical form and a lightness of style that continually helps to inform the content. Since the play is an unfolding series of vignettes, each briefly introduced by a voice-over narrative, the work dangerously flirts with a mechanical, episodic framework. But the viewpoint is always coherent. Weisman's control and almost a kind of sublime elan give the play a clean line and keep the domestic light opera from ever lapsing into kitchen satire or dining room sentiment.

The evening is comparable to watching the old TV-celebrated Loud family of Santa Barbara through the prism of a selective and humorous sensibility.

It's not that playwright Lapine has anything new to say about the American family — it's that we see it fresh, and we rather like what we see.

Playgoers relate in terms of their own experience; for some, for instance, the characters suggest, say, that pocket of upper middle-class families south of Wilshire, north of Olympic and west of Doheny. San Marino or Hancock Park or the Hollywood Hills aren't quite right.

The people are Jewish, to the ancient bone in the case of Helen Verbit's Russian earth mother; physically in the case of the bothersome puberty kids (nicely rather than obnoxiously acted by Claudia Lonow and Stuart Rogers), and unobtrusively in the laid-back, dropped-out, druggie younger son (wonderfully played, with an engaging mellowness, by Richard Bey).

One character, the wife (Valerie Curtin), is a Gentile, but appears more Jewish than her martini-tippling attorney husband (another sharp performance, by James Su-torius). The drop-out son's girl friend, smartly handled by Shelley Batt, is a psychiatrist and divorcee.

Nobody's the same at the end — not quite. The stage hasn't been filled with passion or knockabout comedy (except for one funny under-the-table sequence). Events slide before you. The effect is subtly supported by Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral's lighting, Russell Pyle's settings, and Charles Berlinger's costumes.

Producer is Joseph Stern of Actors for Themselves.

Drama-Logue, March 26-April 1, 1981


Shout hallelujah for a conjunction of good things at the Matrix Theatre. Before recoiling from what may appear to be excessive enthusiasm, consider the causes. Actors For Themselves producers Joseph Stern and William Devane, who were responsible for Are You Now or Have You Ever Been . . . ?, The Changing Room and A Life in the Theatre, are back in business with the West Coast premiere of an intriguing new comedy which received (deservedly) the George Oppenheimer/Newsday award in 1980. James Lapine's Table Settings satirizes the confusion and frustration of a middle-class American family cut off from life's roots in a theatrical shorthand which distinguishes it from other works belonging to this familiar genre. With this play, actor Sam Weisman makes his Los Angeles directorial debut, an auspicious one. Last, but not least, the handsomely renovated Matrix is now a model intimate theatre.

While categorical!y a Jewish family play, Table Settings is basically American in that the typical middle class family anywhere in the United States suffers to some degree from the painful dichotomy of old values and new, but it appears more clearly as the rift in the Jewish lute than in any other less consecrated to tradition. The playwright has chosen a milieu perfect for his purpose and obviously knows it well. Lapine has shrewdly and meticulously eliminated the heavyhandedness which customarily weighs down an account of the resentment, fear, nostalgia and breast-beating engendered by cultural shock even unto the third and fourth generations. What might easily have been a noodle-solid kugel is a souffle in the hands of Lapine.

Cooking is dear to the heart of the play's Mother (all seven characters are designed only by relationship to the family), now a widow, who came from Minsk and allows none to forget that one suffered from the bitter cold in old Russia but not from immorality. Feeding her family is Mother's chief mission, which is not so banal as it sounds, for she is providing nourishment for the soul, if not the mind, in food for which her children find her sadly lacking. Still, Mother manages to gather her reluctant, obstreperous brood around the table as often as she can. The dining table is a symbol of solidarity, strength and the sanctity of people breaking bread together, which ritual is today more honored in the breach than in the observance. When life has no center, the center of life is in restaurants and other public places. It is significant that Table Settings begins and ends in a restaurant.

Like most deeply engaging plays, it is moral; like many plays of acute social contrast, it is funny, sometimes hilarious. Laughter springs from the way these people succumb to the shams and shibboleths of a culture spawned by the Beatles, Timothy Leary, John Dewey, Dr. Spock, Madison Avenue, television and Freud's inheritors, and the misled innocents' unrealized capacity to be captains of their souls. They are characters out of Alan Ayckbourn, their lives edited by Jules Feiffer.

While Weisman has directed his actors to take Thurberish attitudes and stances, he still makes us feel that the characters tremble on the edge of being flesh and blood. The company's technique is more than equal to harmonizing revue-sketch style and realism, a task requiring the utmost in precision and timing. The main burden is on James Sutorius as martini-drinking Older Son, a lawyer, and Valerie Curtin as his easily shocked Wife, a shiksa. Their attempt to "turn each other on" is both riotous and pathetic.

As spaced-out "lost" Younger Son, Richard Bey dredges up deeper feelings than his relatives are called upon to do. Shelly Batt plays Girlfriend (his), a trendy glib social worker doomed to be nothing more than a caricature of a woman, with cool assurance and arrogant contemporaneity. Claudia Lonow, Granddaughter, skillfully traverses the path from screaming brat to calculating ingenue. Moppet Stuart Rogers, Grandson, is in admirable control without being precocious. Helen Verbit's Mother is closer to being a stereotype than the rest of her family, but that's mainly in the writing. The actress makes her a lovable matriarch; you may not want to live under her roof, but you'd enjoy sitting at her table.

Russell Pyle's dark paneled dining room is the perfect setting for the table center stage. Lighting by Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral effectively illuminates and bridges the many scenes introduced by Voice Over (Paul Sparer), each with a verbal caption. Costumes by Charles Berliner are appropriately unobtrusive.

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