Thursday, June 30, 2016

Family Dinners as Living History—THE EARLY BIRD SPECIAL is Served!

By Jenan Jacobson

Jenan Jacobson
Family dinners are always an interesting affair.
Crossing generational gaps to enjoy a night of       eating and joke telling, these dinners are a microcosm of the differences that stretch across eras. Depending on the family, gatherings like these could play out in myriad ways. My favorite television show when I was younger was Gilmore Girls, and the best scenes were always dinners at Emily and Richard’s house. Why? Because that was where all the tension was to be found! These two generations were as different as could be, “diametrically opposed, foes.”

Hamilton's "The Room Where it Happened"

In fact, this setting of the family dinner is a well-loved one in television and stories, even appearing in good old family lore. Some dinners fill themselves up with small talk and secret shames and disappointments, tension weighting people down like a heavy blanket. Some dinners are celebrations, good news passed around with the salad bowl. Sometimes the baby photos are brought out.
The family dinners in Gilmore Girls 

Regardless of how these events ultimately unfold, some things are always made clearer. The interactions between generations and the perceptions challenged on both sides of  the age spectrum display a sort of living history, a tangible change in our society. It’s always obvious which grouping of people grew up at the same time—their references to old television shows that don’t ring any bells, their jokes that call upon the memory of some specific political slogan never mentioned in your history books, all of these are testaments to a life that cannot truly be understood by a generation that comes after. And vice versa. Trying to explain some of the finer nuances of Facebook or Twitter will be an exercise in futility, and engaging in topics that are just a little bit too out there is often met with some form of resistance. These are people we love and who love us, but there is a separation nonetheless.

The Early Bird Special by John J. Ronan tells of the aftermath of one such family dinner. Splitting the script into three sections of conversation, we see the reflections of the older generation as well as the younger. The older couple congratulates themselves on a meal well done, celebrating despite the various medical problems bringing them down in their old age. We get to also see two other perspectives from the same evening, the older couple’s children making their own remarks about the dinner—giving a vastly different impression of how the night progressed. This construction of the play works wonders in conveying these differing perspectives, highlighting how dramatic the shift in comprehension of an event is according to your place in the history of the world. Given different backgrounds and experiences, groups of people looking at or participating in the same event might come away with vastly dissimilar impressions. This is true within the same generation, of course, because people grow up differently. However, there is a commonality contained in the zeitgeist that is just not present across generations. And The Early Bird Special portrays this beautifully. Also I hear there is a hilarious joke in the play. Don’t miss it!

Do you have any good stories from a family dinner? 
Wacky things your grandparents have said? Comment below!

The Early Bird Special will be performed as a part of the 
Strawberry One-Act Festival on July 16 (Saturday) 
at 1pm, July 18 (Monday) at 9pm, and July 23
(Saturday) at 1pm. The performance will take place at the 
Theatre at St. Clement’s at 423 West 46th Street, NYC, 
between 9th and 10th avenue. Tickets can be purchased 
online at

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