If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

“Dining Room” Opens Westport Playhouse Season

A.R. Gurney’s modern classic, “The Dining Room”, is currently in splendid revival as the Westport Country Playhouse’s season-opener. This delightful comedy of manners hasn’t aged one hour since its off-Broadway debut in 1982. The Playhouse, now in its historic 83rd season, is off to a fine start with one of Mr. Gurney’s most popular plays.

 

Gurney, a Connecticut resident who has chronicled the upper-crust WASP society for over thirty years in plays like “The Cocktail Hour” and “Love Letters”, had one of his first big hits with “The Dining Room”. It’s a six-character, one-set comedy made up of over a dozen vignettes that overlap and comment on each other over a 50-year span. The actors are called upon to switch characters of varying ages, types and social strata often within seconds of each other.

 

The setting is a grand dining room of yesteryear, a vivid metaphor for a dying society that once ruled the country. Gurney’s rueful comedy can be highly critical of these privileged folks while also being conflicted and bittersweet about a society whose time has clearly passed. It can also be outrageously funny as with the sequence that finds a preppy husband called upon to defend his bachelor brother’s honor at a golf club.

 

Under Mark Lamos’ assured and canny direction, the cast of Westport’s “Dining Room” is a perfectly matched ensemble of talent. Heidi Armbruster, Chris Henry Coffey, Keira Naughton, Jake Robards, Charles Socarides and Jennifer Van Dyck flow in and out of Gurney’s vignettes with ease making minimal but effective costume changes from blazers, ties and sensible skirts (credit to ace designer Jane Greenwood here) while playing spoiled rich kids or old-money Granddads doling out unwanted advice to the latest relative with his hand out. They are all terrific but I especially loved Jennifer Van Dyck’s final touching monologue that caps the play on a blissful note.

 

At the opening night performance I caught, the actors were still finding their way with the script’s rhythms and often talking through laughs causing some crucial lines to be missed. This will no doubt be adjusted with more performances, however, and remains a minor quibble in an overall well-acted production. Michael Yeargan has designed an expansive dining room setting complete with beautiful matching chairs all softly lit by Stephen Strawbridge and John Gromada’s incidental music underscores that lovely speech by Ms. Van Dyck quite effectively. “The Dining Room” may be my personal favorite play of Gurney’s and, in Westport, it is being very well served this month.

 

“The Dining Room” continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through May 18th. For further information or ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.

 

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

 


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