Nine years and still poignant

Wine, decadent food and titillating conversation are the subjects of Northern Kentucky University’s latest production: Omnium Gatherum. The play is a two-hour ride by way of running discourse—but more closely resembles acrimony—covering the breadth of our nation’s hot topics: U.S. enslavement to oil, killing the planet one fuel-inefficient car at a time, a divided war, globalization, sweeping stereotypes, rampant capitalism, excessive patriotism, class division and who can forget, food—all via an upscale dinner party in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

The title of the play is a Lat- in phrase that roughly trans-lates to “a collection of peculiar people.” The phrase is a direct reference to the party’s guests and was penned by playwrights Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros who, throughout the play, are constantly reminding the audience of what strange bedfellows the eight guests are, due to the vast chasms of personal philosophy and moral ideals among them. The diners range from a New York firefighter (who’s an everyday Joe), a spy novelist (who’s a stanch pro-capitalist), to the very opinionated, Cambridge-educated snob—all poised to cite their often differing opinions within their unique hob-nob where the volatile and contentious blend.

The play, which debuted in 2003, feels like an amalgamation between Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with its constant bantering and awkward pairings. Just two years removed from the Trade Center attacks, the play smacks of social commentary- -as all good theatre ought to. One of the main interpretations pokes at the idea that if there’s going to be a world power, it’s a relief that it’s America. But as the play points out, America —with its torrid history, reliance on war and exploits of capitalism— may make the land of opportunity the grandest terrorist of them all.

Another message pent up in the play is the idea of double standards. Americans admonish Middle Eastern nations for allowing their leadership to be dictators, but at the same time, America is a form of cultural dictatorship created in part by the pervasive and overbearing media that programs the expectations and desires of all that come into contact with it. But the U.S. and its strange barometer of fulfillment is not the sole culprit. The play points out that many factions that our nation classifies as terroristic are governed by medieval hierarchies that base their tenets on religion, and in doing so, perpetuate zealots, miring themselves in distrust and hate for a western society that is programmed to consume.

Alongside the dining experience, we become aware of the guests’ personal stories. But we never truly gain an understanding of why such a bizarre collection of personalities are dining together—that is, until the end.

We find out that the fireman is in fact dead and has been since the recent attacks. This proves problematic to the other guests, and eventually gives way to a line of eminent questioning to sort out the whole affair: are all of the guests dead, and if so, are they dining in Heaven or Hell? Those questions are never fully resolved, and because of that, the storyline and the eight party-goers never quite reach a resolution.

In the end, no matter how one chooses to argue the facts, we know that eight people are dead, two towers have been razed and 3,000 souls have been irrevocably lost.

Review by Jeremy Jackson