Traditionally, the dining room was the heart of the home, especially for holidays and special occasions, and for some, everyday use. Today, many formal dining rooms are barely used, and contemporary homes often have open great rooms instead, which speaks to our casual approach to entertaining and everyday life.
The prolific American playwright A.R. Gurney Jr. is known for focusing his attentions on the vanishing lifestyle of the upper-middle-class white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and his witty 1982 play, “The Dining Room,” is no exception. The Eventide Theater Company’s superb production pays homage to Gurney, who died in 2017, at the age of 87.
Set in an elegant dining room, the thought-provoking comedy of manners consists of 18 vignettes that creatively overlap, moving forward and backward in about an 80-year time span, as six actors impressively play 50 roles, ranging in age between eight and 81.
The drama opens with a real estate agent showing a client a grand old home, complete with a formal dining room. Taking one look at the room, the man insists, “We’ll never use this room!” To support this claim, he adds that his wife used their last dining room “to sort the laundry.”
In another scene, the play goes back in time to the Depression era, with a very strict father permitting his young children to have breakfast in the dining room with him, if they abide by his many rules, the least of which is to sit up straight. The politically closed-minded father is equally demanding of the maid, telling her he found a seed in his strained orange juice, and how the mere seed could “wreak havoc with the digestion.”
Touching upon women’s liberation, a wife is busy typing her college term paper on top of the dining room table, much to her stuffy husband’s chagrin, who prefers that the room is given more respect.
An architect discusses how his client could divide up the large dining room into smaller rooms, for his home psychiatry practice, since the kitchen is where the family would spend their time together. In a comical twist, the architect is triggered when he recalls the controlling meals he used to have to endure, in his own childhood dining room.
With excellent direction by Kay DeFord, the ensemble of six is memorable, fluid and believable. The adult cast includes: Deanna Dziedzina, Kate Paxton (a talented teenager), Jan Bradbury Richmond, John Williams, Jody O’Neil, and Chris Chesnut. On Friday night, the audience especially enjoyed when the actors played wide-eyed and unruly children, causing many outbursts of laughter. Making the acting all the more challenging, often, in the next scene those same actors play a stern adult flawlessly.
Toby Wilson’s set is simple yet highly effective, with the formal table taking center stage. Two framed doorways do the rest of the work, with a stately arched one to the left that suggests a connection to the rest of the elegant home, while the squared door frame on the right holds a swinging door reserved for the servants coming from the kitchen.
The ornate dining room table is the only constant character between the insightful and sarcastic dialogue spread throughout the dynamic play. It is hard not to think fondly of the impressive table and chairs, with all of the attention paid to them. Of note, the dining room set is for sale at the end of the run, for anyone who feels compelled to have this piece of Americana.
What: “The Dining Room”
Where: Eventide Theatre Company, 713 Route 6A, Dennis
When: Through March 4
Tickets: Call 508-398-8588