The Dining Room
By Roz Friedman
The Dining Room, written in 1972, is one of my favorite A.R. Gurney plays; in fact, it is one of my favorite plays of all time. For some reason, it seems to grow more relevant to my life, every time I see it. This present production, directed by Artistic Director Mark Lamos is exquisite and acted by a wonderfully versatile six member cast. When I first saw The Dining Room, it reminded me of the home in which I grew up; now it resonates emotionally with me, bringing me to tears because I am about to leave my own home where I have lived for over 40 years.
Three women and three men, in tour de force performances, Heidi Armbruster, Chris Henry Coffey, Keira Naughton, Jake Robards, Charles Socarides and Jennifer Van Dyck, flow off and onstage playing over 50 characters in one and one half hours without intermission. They circulate around a carved dining room table and six matching chairs built in 1898. Each of the characters depict different ages and are facing different problems; all concern the use of the dining table, where they meet, eat and gather.
The people are supposed to be WASPS with wealth; but I can tell you that my family was not White Anglo-Saxon Protestants; my mother's mother, however, came from London, so we had a formal dining room and lots of silver utensils; we heard about finger bowls but did not use them. The actors portray little boys and girls, mothers, fathers, some cheating on their spouses, and a grandfather, who is visited by a grandson, who wants money for private boarding school. Keira Naughton is fantastic, evoking sympathy as the elderly mother of three grown sons, who has dementia. She does not know who they are and where she is at a holiday dinner in her very own house, but she is very polite as she asks to be taken home. And she is equally impressive as an over-worked Irish maid. There are a number of servants presented here, under-appreciated until their retirement.
The Dining Room, with unique staging and delectable characters, will play through May 18 at the Westport Country Playhouse.
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO