Friday, September 21, 2007

The Dining Room

I love sitting back and watching Gurney-world. His plays are laugh-out-loud funny, but not in a cruel way.
“The Dining Room” is different from other plays of his I’ve seen in that it is MULTI-charactered. The six first-rate actors -- Anne McDonough, Timothy McCracken, Dan Daily, Claire Lautier, Samantha Soule and Mark J. Sullivan -- play about 50 different parts, WASPs of several generations and their servants. The common theme is the importance, or lack thereof, of gathering around the dining room table, and it is portrayed in unrelated scenes. Director Jonathan Silverstein does a lovely job of keeping it all rolling.
I grew up Irish Catholic and not WASP, but my mother had so many of the same sensibilities as the older generation here. We ate dinner every night in the dining room, by candlelight, with the silver and linen napkins, the whole nine yards, only without the servants. Many of the scenes in the play hit home to me, but one in particular brought back memories. Two teenage girls are sitting around the table drinking a mixture of vodka, gin and Fresca waiting for some boys to come over to smoke pot. Helen, the girl who is visiting, is impressed and wants to stay there when the boys arrive. Sarah, who lives there, wants no part of the dining room and all it represents -- formality, gentility, proper ways of doing things.
I was that girl, and the visiting girl in reverse. The first time I had dinner at my grade school friend Terry Hagen’s house I was enthralled because we ate TV dinners in the kitchen with her family. I had never had a TV dinner and was fascinated. We had gone to the stores and selected them, which meant that everybody could have something different and exactly what they wanted. Then we ate them in the containers, which was so cool because the vegetables, potatoes and meat each had their own little walled space instead of all being on a china plate. I thought how lucky Terry was and when I got home I asked my mother if we could start eating TV dinners in the kitchen. Absolutely not, but she did let me do it the next time she went out for dinner. It just wasn’t as much fun doing it by myself. I had never given a thought to eating in the dining room by candlelight, but from then on I envied Terry and her TV dinners in the kitchen. In the play when it is suggested that people nowadays eat in the kitchen, the older generation is horrified and makes it perfectly clear they will not. My mother would agree.
Originally produced in 1982, this delightful revival of “The Dining Room” is presented by Keen Company, which did a poignantly beautiful production of “Tea and Sympathy” earlier this year. It runs through Oct. 14 at The Clurman Theater on Theatre Row.

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