I’m not sure if The Dinner Table (Fail Better Theatre) entirely needs a review. There are only twelve seats at this site-specific Toronto Fringe Festival production that promises dinner and a show, with a rotating cast of two storytellers, so the run is a sell-out, save a stray ticket here or there. The two storytellers change every night, so no two shows are at all alike, except thematically. Even dinner, freshly cooked and served to all guests, is different each time. Was my reviewing presence superfluous? Possibly. Am I glad I had a chance to be there? Absolutely.
Site-specific shows bring a lot of excitement to Fringe, and small, intimate, interactive theatre experiences even more so. In my mind, Fringe is for taking risks and building community, as well as delivering great theatre. Last year, the same team (co-creators Ali Richardson and Ben Hayward) delivered a fascinating look into Andy Warhol’s relationship with Valerie Solanas in the similarly intimate Andy Warhol Presents: Valerie. Here, they create an entirely different, but equally fascinating, experience.
The setup is simple but lovely, a decorated dinner table, photographs, and strings of lights in the basement of 918 Bathurst, a converted Buddhist temple. The building is a hive of community and activity. During tonight’s show, a church revival sang overhead, and a chess organization met in the conference room close by. This created a perfect setting for stories of home, belonging, community, and nostalgia.
This is not a play in its strictest sense; it is a curated, devised experience, and a surprisingly moving one. Even if you’re there alone, the warm and engaging nature of the event and the speakers welcomes you into the fold.
First, there’s a kitchen tour, where the upcoming meal (based on storyteller requests) is explained. Chef Hayward tells the first story, about his connection between food and home. We also hear about producer Richardson’s home and pass around family photos. Everyone is then invited to share where we think of as our home(s), causing us to consider that “Where are you from?” can be a fraught and loaded question.
The food is great, and plentiful. The atmosphere is casual and, like dinner, served family-style. Unlike most Fringe shows, you’re allowed to use your phone, take pictures or have seconds, leave to use the washroom and return.
Nobody got up during the stories, though, which were emotional and spellbinding, told by dramaturg Mel Hague (Buddies in Bad Times, Obsidian Theatre Company) and playwright David Yee (current artistic director of fu-GEN Theatre Company). Hague told us about a visit to an ailing grandmother in Jamaica, a “home” she’d never before been to. Yee shared his story of trying to figure out where he belongs. Both told us the meaning behind their tattoos. The stories are very personal, well-written secrets about place and loss, and aren’t mine to reveal further. The players are different every night, so these stories are ephemeral; each night is one night only.
The Dinner Table manages to turn the everyday into something a little extraordinary. In the end, I heard some wonderful stories, ate delicious food, made some connections with the unknown, and shared an experience of community and fellowship around a table, as we’ve done for thousands of years.
And it made Toronto, and the Fringe Festival, feel even more like home.
- The Dinner Table is playing until July 12 at 918 Bathurst St. (Downstairs Kitchen)
- Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the performance. Venue sales are cash-only.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. Set your watch to CBC time, and arrive a few minutes early to avoid disappointment.
- The venue is extremely small, so it’s a good idea to get your tickets in advance.
- The show includes mature language and audience participation.
July 10 at 06:30 PM
July 10 at 09:00 PM
July 11 at 06:30 PM
July 12 at 6:30 PM