Dinner At Eight
By George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber
"From the society column of the New York Times:
Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Jordan of 927 Park Avenue, entertained at dinner last night in honor of Lord and Lady Ferncliffe. Their guests included Miss Carlotta Vance, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Packard, Dr. and Mrs. J. Wayne Talbot, and Mr. Larry Renault. Following the dinner Mr. and Mrs. Jordan and their guest attended a musical comedy…"
The dinner party hosted by the Jordans turns out to be the most disastrous theatrical banquet since the Scottish play. Despite her attempts throw the perfect dinner, Mille Jordan is confounded by events beyond her considerable control: Dan Packard, a business tycoon has just gobbled up her husband's shipping line; Packard's wife, Kitty, is having an affair with Dr. Talbot; Millie's daughter is having an affair with the aging matinee idol Larry Renault, who is suicidal over his career prospects; and the glamorous Carlotta Vance, a former paramour of Oliver's is about to sell all her stock in his company to Dan Packard. By the time the butler announces that "dinner is served," a microcosm of Depression society has been thrown together and shaken by the thousand little dirty secrets that connect each person to another, no matter what their class.
About the Play:
For their second collaboration, Ferber and Kaufman created a complex portrait of New York at the height of the Depression—so complex, in fact, that Kaufman refused to attempt the project for many years. Ferber was always fascinated by multi-generational, interrelated stories; decades before the advent of soap operas and television shows like Dallas, she practically invented the interwoven narratives of the rich and powerful. Kaufman's gift for construction effortlessly keeps a dozen separate stories in the air, while each sce
ne tightens the skein that keeps all the characters together.
Although a stage version of Vicki Baum's Grand Hotel has opened more than a year before, Kaufman and Ferber banked on the basic contemporaneity of their subject and the kaleidoscopic view of New York society resonated with critics and audiences. American drama has very few real comedies of manners—unlike British theatre, which has many—and Dinner at Eight is one of the finest examples of this genre. The MGM film version from 1933, directed by George Cukor and starring, among others, Marie Dressler, Jean Harlow, and John and Lionel Barrymore, was itself a successful follow-up to the film of Grand Hotel, which also featured the Barrymores. It cemented MGM's reputation as the all-star studio and provided audiences with one of the 1930s most successful films. The following bit of dialogue—written by Herman Mankiewicz—has become legendary; alas, it's not in the play:
Kitty: I was reading a book the other day.
Due to its elaborate production of seven sets, the show did not tour prior to its Broadway opening, premiering instead on October 22, 1932 at the Music Box Theatre. It received rave reviews and ran 232 performances. The starry film version largely eclipsed its stage history, until Sir Tyrone Guthrie directed a revival on Broadway in 1967. The Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven gave the play a scaled-down production, featuring Elizabeth Wilson and Charles Kea
ting, in 1989. Lincoln Center Theater produced a glittery revival in 2002, with Christine Ebersole and Marian Seldes as Carlotta Vance; it was nominated for several Tony Awards, winning Best Set Design for John Lee Beatty's elegant settings.
Cast size: 15 men, 12 women
A glossary for the play, as well as additional information and articles can be found by clicking on "Archives" on the Home Page.
"If you plan to spend time on a sinking ship, it might as well be the Titanic. The main characters in George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's ''Dinner at Eight,'' which has been given a sumptuous shop window of a revival by Lincoln Center Theater, are headed straight for icebergs in their lives. It is, after all, the height of the Depression, and fortunes tumble daily. But at least these endangered sybarites will be going down in style, with silks and furs to fend off mortal chills and crystal chandeliers to light their paths to doom. From ''Oedipus Rex'' to The National Enquirer, watching the rich and mighty get theirs has been a perennially popular spectator sport, providing the satisfactions of both plain old Schadenfreude and keyhole glimpses of upper-crust opulence."
--Ben Brantley, The New York Times, 12/20/02
"If holding human folly up to scorn is closer to your definition of satire, then Dinner at Eight is a feast. The scenes from frivolous high society are full of pointed humor, of course, but there is a dark feeling that envelops you as you read this play, a creeping certainty that something just awful will be the fate of the glittering creatures after the curtain comes down."
--Dick Cavett, The Wall Street Journal
Dinner at Eight is in many ways the definitive American comedy of manners