Encore Michigan

A tasty re-opening at The Dio

Review September 08, 2013 Bridgette Redman

When it comes to dinner theater, it isn’t just the show that matters, it is the entire experience.

This is something The Dio clearly has in mind as it presents its new dinner theater in downtown Pinckney. From the fancy table settings with the program folded into cloth napkins as if it were a menu to the low lighting and color-coordinated room, there was clearly as much thought put into the dining as the entertainment.

Tables are set up at diagonals and right angles to the stage so everyone has a good view without neck craning. Along the middle are five tables set up for couples, surrounded by the more traditional four-setting tables.

Director and co-owner Steve DeBruyne selected a favorite Neil Simon show as the theater’s first play (they earlier opened with the musical “Forever Plaid”). “Lost in Yonkers” is a heavy drama for a well-fed audience, but it is also well seasoned with laugh moments and characters who are easy to care about.

The first act dragged, especially the first scene. DeBruyne would do well to pick up the pacing during the interminable wait for the first appearance of Jan Cartwright as Grandma Kurnitz. It is during this first scene that we get to know the two boys who will spend nearly a year of their lives in Yonkers with a spiteful grandmother, while their dad sells scrap iron to pay for their dead mother’s hospital bills.

Joe Hostnik as Jay, a teenager on the verge of manhood, and Austin Bickel as Arty, his 13 ½-year-old younger brother, turn in fine performances. Bickel is full of energy and has a wide range of facial expressions and reactions to the strange relatives he encounters. Hostnik portrays a Jay who truly grows and matures through the course of the play. He resents his fate and claims to hate his grandmother, but he also is one of the first to see her for who she is. It is clear his tears are not the weakness his grandmother makes them out to be, but a badge of character and inner strength.

Tricia Turek’s Bella is a pure delight. She is a bundle of electricity with a wide range of pure joy, fear, anger, heartbreak and confusion. As a mentally challenged 35-year-old, Bella cares for her mother in a mutually dependent relationship. She may have difficulty thinking, but she has no challenges with loving or with understanding what motivates people.

Cartwright portrays a woman of steel exterior and an unexpectedly fragile interior. She quickly invites you to hate her character, but by the end, brings you into a degree of sympathy with her. She was cruel and abusive to all her children, but manages to convince us that she really was doing the best she knew how because she wanted them to survive. Moreover, she shows without ever telling that she is far more a prisoner than any of her children or her grandchildren are.

Brian Bickel – who is Austin Bickel’s real-life father as well as his stage one – turned in a sincere Eddie who managed to escape the twisted fate of his siblings. He may get sick a lot like his sister Gert (played by Susan Craves), but he has learned to love and raises his boys in a different way than how he was raised.

As a two-bit hoodlum who played up the stereotype to impress his nephews, Samer Aljuni’s Uncle Louie showed yet another result of the warped upbringing.

The two-story set with four doors and a kitchen set in a cove provided multiple levels. Matthew G. Tomich’s stairs gave the grandmother something to stiffly limp down in a way that displayed both her strength and fragility. Tomich gave the perfect appearance of a ’40s Yonkers apartment in a way that was highly functional.

Set changes were sometimes long and might have been better covered by the reading of the letters rather than waiting to start those letters until the set change was complete.

Dinner itself, under the attention of Chef Jarod, was all delicious, with a variety of main dishes to go with the salads and potatoes. The menu for the run is country fried (boneless) chicken, caprese salad, veggie kabobs, tossed salad, rolls, beef stroganoff, and red skin potatoes. Dessert, warm peach cobbler, was served at intermission.

With “Lost in Yonkers” and the excellent menu, DeBruyne shows he knows how to match dining and entertainment to create an excellent night of dinner theater. His attention to artistic details and the comfort of his guests bodes well for The Dio’s future. It’s well worth the trip to Pinckney and the $39 to partake of this feast.

Week of 6/17/2024

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