“The Dining Room” at Westport Country Playhouse

--Irene Backalenick

If you happen to an A. R. Gurney fan, if you succumb to his particular style and vision, then “The Dining Room,” now playing at the Westport Country Playhouse, will be right on target. Gurney, as with most of his plays, focuses on the world he knows best -- the world of upper-class/middle-class northeast WASPS. He treats that world tenderly, indulgently, but with considerable bite. Growing up in that world, as victim and observer, he is well-qualified to be its chronicler.

 

“The Dining Room,” one of his best-known and most typical plays, focuses on one family (or so it seems) down through the generations. It all takes place in and around the dining room table. Mark Lamos, the Playhouse’s Artistic Director, leads his cast of six through the romp. The six highly-competent performers -- Heidi Armbruster, Chris Henry Coffey, Keira Naughton, Jake Robards, Charles Socarides, and Jennifer Van Dyck -- depict a myriad of characters at varied stages of life.

 

Each little skit stands on its own, as characters vie for power, recognition, love. Do not expect to sort out the story, or determine whether this is one family. Gurney’s statement comes across. Here is a kind of people, a culture fast disappearing from the planet. In case one doesn’t get the message, Gurney spells it out in one scene. A young student interviews his great-aunt because his anthropology class has been assigned to study an obsolete culture.

 

Gurney is particularly hard on the parents, who play out their relationships with their children according to the rules. Good manners are all-important, substituting for human warmth, for real emotions. It’s apparently Gurney’s chance for pay-back time. At the same time, Gurney manages so much charm, wit, and poignancy into these skits that he can be forgiven for self-indulgence.

 

For Gurney fans, this Playhouse show is a must-see.

 

This review also appears on nytheaterscene.com

 

 

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