Dinner at Eight: Synopsis


 

Setting: New York City, early 1930s

Act I

Scene one – The drawing room of the Jordan home – 9am, Friday

Socialite Millicent Jordan opens her morning mail while talking to her husband Oliver. She receives a radiogram from Lord and Lady Ferncliffe, who will soon arrive from England on the Aquitania. They have accepted an invitation from the Jordans for a dinner party and reception for the following Friday, and Millicent is jubilant. Immediately, she starts to imagine the guest list for the party, discussing various potential attendees with Oliver. Dr. Joseph and Lucy Talbot immediately spring to mind, as well as the celebrated actress Carlotta Vance who has recently returned to New York; Oliver also suggests inviting Dan Packard and his wife Kitty for reasons related to his business. The Jordans’ daughter, Paula, enters and avoids discussing her upcoming marriage and puts off a shopping trip with her mother scheduled for that afternoon. After Oliver and Paula leave for work, Millicent telephones the Talbots and the Packards, and they eagerly accept the invitation to the party. Millicent imagines other details, like engaging an Austrian quartet for the evening and what will be on the menu.

Scene two—Oliver Jordan’s business office in lower Manhattan – 1pm, Friday

Carlotta Vance pays a surprise visit to Oliver at his company, Jordan Shipping Lines, and they reminisce about the old days when the city was different. Carlotta then reveals that she is broke and wishes to sell her shares of Jordan stock. Jordan explains that he has his own financial concerns, knowing that other shareholders wish to liquidate as well. As Carlotta leaves, Dan Packard enters for an appointment, and Oliver asks him for a loan, which he agrees to. After Dan leaves, Oliver expresses his concerns about weathering the Depression.

Scene three – Kitty’s bedroom in the Packard penthouse – 4pm, Friday

Kitty Packard lies in bed, claiming to be ill. Her husband Dan strides in and expresses his determination in business as he announces that he’s going to Washington DC to meet with the President. Dan also discloses his secret intention to take over Oliver’s business; as a result, dining with the Jordans on Friday will be uncomfortable, but Kitty still wants to go. Before he exits, Dan dreams of a scheme in which he involves surrogates to take over Oliver’s business. Dr. Talbot makes a house call to Kitty who bemoans his absence during their affair.

Scene four – The drawing room of the Jordan home – 3pm, the following Wednesday

Millicent and Doctor Talbot’s wife, Lucy, return from shopping and learn that one of her party guests has canceled. Millicent decides to invite Larry Renault, who is in town rehearsing a play on Broadway. She calls Larry who accepts and hands the phone to Paula before leaving the room; Paula speaks to Larry on the telephone, revealing that they are having an affair.

Scene five – Larry Renault’s room in the Hotel Versailles – 2pm, Friday, the day of the dinner party

Paula visits Larry at his hotel. She wants to break it off with Ernest and go public with their relationship, but Larry resists the idea. Paula leaves as Max Kane, Larry’s agent, arrives. He reveals that Larry was replaced in the Broadway play. Larry demands that he ask the producer for a secondary role. After Max leaves, Larry orders another bottle of whiskey from room service, and now completely out of cash, pays with his cufflinks. As he drinks, he tries to persuade himself that his career isn’t failing.

Scene six – The drawing room of the Jordan’s home – 4pm, Friday

A crash is heard from the kitchen. The doorbell rings. Millicent urgently commands Gustave the butler to answer the door. Carlotta has unexpectedly dropped by to see Oliver. The bell rings again, and Gustave enters with roses from the Ferncliffes. At the same moment, Carlotta confesses to Oliver that she has sold her stock. He soon learns by telephone that others have followed suit, revealing a potential takeover. Millicent has also received terrible news. The Ferncliffes have cancelled her dinner party, instead going to Florida; rather than an entire string quartet, only a single Hungarian violist is available for the party; and worst of all, Gustave has dropped the entire lobster dinner, ruining it completely. Her daughter reveals that she doesn’t want to marry her fiancé, and Oliver wants to beg off attending the dinner that evening as he has chest pains. Utterly defeated, Millicent collapses in a chair.

 

Act II

Scene one – Dr. Talbot’s office – 5pm, Friday

Oliver visits Dr. Talbot to make an appointment for the next day. After Oliver leaves, Lucy stops by and, hearing her husband on the phone with Kitty, confronts him about his philandering. After she leaves, it is revealed that Oliver has a serious coronary condition, with weeks to live. Dr. Talbot feels guilty and resolves to change his ways.

Scene two – The drawing room of the Jordan home – 6:15pm, Friday

Millicent calls Delmonico’s to have them make a dinner and deliver it to her home.

Scene three – Kitty’s bedroom in the Packard penthouse – 7pm, Friday

Kitty is at her vanity, preparing for the dinner party. Dan reiterates his intention to follow politics in Washington and Kitty protests. She confesses that she is having an affair and will not leave New York. Dan threatens to destroy her reputation. Kitty, in turn, promises to reveal his shady business practices and ruin his career.

Scene four – The drawing room of the Jordan home – 7:45pm, Friday

Millicent puts the final touches on the dinner party.

Scene five – Larry Renault’s room in the Hotel Versailles – 8pm, Friday

Larry is crushed to learn from Max that he didn’t get the secondary role in the play. The hotel manager informs him that his room needs to be vacated the next day. Realizing that he has no career and no money left, he goes to the fireplace in his room and turns on the gas.

Scene six – The drawing room of the Jordan home – 8:15pm, Friday

Millicent welcomes the guests to her party: the Packards, the Talbots, and Carlotta. As the evening progresses, the events from the preceding week come to light with startling and entertaining consequences. 

 

 

 

 


 

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