SWEET TABLE AT THE RICHELIEU
“Remarkable ‘Richelieu’ premieres at ART… Ronald Ribman’s mysterious and unsettling play…is a demanding piece of work about the casual horror of human suffering, and it’s played out in the gilded atmosphere of an Alpine spa…It is full of tantalizing thoughts about lies nurturing truth, mystery breeding belief. If some of it is inexplicable, it does make one particularly indelible point. And it is worthy of Beckett. Sliding into the lizard’s supper, at least the cricket makes a last desperate chirp. It’s not much but it’s still a cry of hope.”
“Are our pain and suffering greater than Lear’s?…Rather than focusing on one or two characters in a particularly relevant dilemma (AIDS in Fierstein’s play; war and cowardice in Fugard; the role of women in Stoppard), Ronald Ribman brings before us a roomful of 20th century decadents involved in the Decline of the West in “Sweet Table at the Richelieu.” The first play in a trilogy, ‘Sweet Table’ was premiered in February by the American Repertory Theater. It’s companion pieces, ‘The Cannibal Masque’ and ‘A Serpent’s Egg,’ are currently being performed in the company’s New Stages series. Here, on a strange shifting canvas, is a brilliant and complex assimilation of sources—from the mystical to the scientific—tracing the end of civilization with, as it turns out, a kind of thin Beckettian hope. Ribman’s three plays are filled with metaphors about voracious appetite, an appetite ready to devour confectionary sweets as well as human flesh to find satisfaction—however temporary—in a dog eat dog world.
“Much of what Ribman has to say is difficult to grasp, thickly, deliberately allusive. But there are enough clear outbursts to following the deepening course of his thought. In ‘Sweet Table’s’ first scene, a crotchety old woman takes heated issue with the failure she sees around her: ‘Elegance has gone out of the world! Order, discipline, grace! Replaced by jackasses, buffoons, nonentities. The world can drown in the sun for all that’s left of value!’ What Ribman then goes on to dramatize is the drowning itself. Gluttony mocks misery. Rape, violence, murder ridicule civility. From the midst of Ribman’s characters there develops a particular story of a woman, Jeanine Cendrars, mourning a dead child. Her sorrow becomes ‘a song in the mouth of annihilation.’ The song, by the way, is later attached to an echo in ‘A Serpent’s Egg.’ In the trilogy’s final play, a savage bully—‘Jackass, buffoon, nonentity’—falls down a mountain to his death, howling in the wind for ‘Help!’ There will be no help for the bully, but for Jeanine Cendrars there is, at least, her endurance over suffering.
“What is learned, finally, from these voices of varied intensity heard these scattered nights, is what Ribman comes to: endurance, survival, the human capacity to suffer and continue. That’s something the Greeks and Shakespeare knew, then wrapped in myths about nobility. Lacking the comfort of those myths, there may be something beyond nobility in facing into the void without promise, without applause. Estragon to Vladimir in ‘Waiting for Godot’: ‘You don’t have to look.’ Vladimir: ‘You can’t help looking.’” — Kevin Kelly, The Boston Globe
“Assessing Jeanine’s cricket-like courage, Cesare terms it ‘a stunning song. Although it suffers occasionally from obscure references, Sweet Table at the Richelieu is equally stunning.” — Jules Becker, This Week
“With its world-premiere staging of ‘Sweet Table at the Richelieu,’ ART sustains its pursuit of extraordinary theater. ‘Sweet Table’ takes the familiar, pulls back the curtain of surface appearances only to reveal the strange desperations, bizarre joys and joyful hostilities that lie deep within its characters.” — Timothy C. Morgan, Sentinal-Enterprise
“…an intriguing, surreal discourse on life and fate…Ribman mixes deep reflection with shallow posturing and outright vulgarity (in manner, not language) in startling, shifting ways that keep attention riveted to the stage…an air of foreboding that arouses imaginings in the audience beyond what the players show.” — Brian S. Mcniff, Worcester Telegraph
“Imagine yourself in the Gothic splendor of a grand old hotel somewhere in Europe. Outside the snow is falling while inside the guests gather after dinner in front of a sumptuous table covered with every imaginable dessert. But the sweetness this table promises is not reflected by the guests—a group who speak without personal censorship, their conversations peppered with insults and threats, their veneer of sensibility and etiquette shattered by verbal duels and angry insults. These people may appear civilized, but their appearances deceive…‘Sweet Table at the Richelieu’ is fascinating and never boring.” — Matt Schaeffer, WBCN
“A stunning world premiere at the ART. Long after the production ends with a midnight sleigh ride around the Alpine peaks, ‘Sweet Table at the Richelieu’ lingers in mind as a beautiful and poisoned fantasy. It is like an apple covered in gold—with the apple inside rotting. This world premiere at the A.R.T. takes place in a universe almost like the one outside your door. As a theatrical event nothing in recent memory can match it for pure imagination, for the elegance of its gestures, or for the scope of its ambition…forceful and fanciful, a work that fills the imagination.” — Joe Arena, Cambridge (Mass) Chronicle
*Original first editions also often found through eBay and Coming Soon in eBook.