The siblings of a large, loving and passionate Italian family gather for a meal of pasta and meatballs on Sunday evening. Their parents of the Castellano family have passed away, and the rest of the group wants to maintain family traditions in the face of their loss.
But when Don confesses a secret that puts him at odds with his family, all hell breaks loose — and the volume around the dinner table rises in the face of a revelation that goes so far against the family traditions. As the family bickers, they see Don’s secret as a betrayal of their parents’ legacy.
Warmhearted and expressive, this short family dramedy — directed by Kevin Mead and written by Don Fanelli — puts viewers at the center of a gathering of a large, garrulous clan, giving us a close-range POV of the different, and often competing, personalities. These psychological fault-lines are often smoothed over or ignored in favor of togetherness and belonging, but one of their differences comes to the fore, chaos erupts… loudly.
With its compressed, intimate location and narrative scope — essentially one evening meal in one place — the writing and performances do much of the heavy lifting in the storytelling, though the clean, polished visuals situate us clearly, helping viewers get their bearings within this large gathering. The dialogue expertly captures the tenor of the family, and these siblings talk to one another in a boisterous, lively way.
There’s no doubt there is a lot of love in the family, but each member is not afraid to give each other a hard time and stand up for their viewpoints, and much of the humor is found in their give-and-take. The dialogue feels free-wheeling and true to life, but structurally, it takes great care to give each character a distinctive role and perspective.
The ensemble cast brings the Castellanos to life, with each performer balancing their distinctive personality with the way that families echo and influence one another’s mannerisms, rhythms and body language. Viewers will easily believe this is a real family, and the effort pays off when one of the flock reveals a decision that differs drastically from how they’ve grown up — and the differences flare up into drama with a capital D.
In a time of social distancing and changes wrought by a global pandemic, “Sunday Dinner” has an unexpected resonance, especially now that many of us more keenly appreciate what it means to gather and commune over food, drink and conversation with our loved ones.
There’s nothing flashy in the craftsmanship, but its quiet excellence allows for viewers to feel like unofficial members of the family, with a seat at the table. We feel the warmth of belonging, and also understand the unique role of gathering in creating this sense of connection. Like Don, we feel tension and anxiety at the idea of doing something that can threaten that bond. But we also learn that true belonging doesn’t require making ourselves smaller or invisible, but thrives when we’re at our most authentic and honest with the people we love.