Dining and Whining

The Dining Room

At the Circle Bar B Theatre, Saturday, May 13. Shows through July 2.

Reviewed by Felicia M. Tomasko

Is the dining room really becoming an obsolete tradition, fit for anthropological studies and museum exhibits of vanishing customs and cultures? According to American playwright A.R. Gurney’s comic drama The Dining Room, people are abandoning the haunt of family dinners and evening parties for casual meals in kitchens and eating in front of the television, juggling plates. But is it a loss to bemoan? Gurney’s portrayals of dining room dynamics are often painful. Children struggle to behave in front of a disapproving and controlling father who admonishes a son’s desire to be on time for school, saying that he will remember their pleasant breakfasts long after memories of hymns and arithmetic have faded. He will likely remember the trauma of being yelled at during breakfast.

The Dining Room, though, is an appropriate theme for a dinner theater. After barbecue on communal tables, the audience observes dining of a different sort — in a one-set play suitable for the barn’s interior. Cybele Foraker’s set design evokes a dining room that morphs through middle- to upper-class incarnations.

Director Jim Sirianni ably directs the ensemble cast that deftly makes a series of dizzying character changes as the story shifts from scene to scene. Cast members Jennifer Gimblin, Ed Giron, Sean Jackson, E. Bonnie Lewis, Brian Harwell, and Leslie Ann Story alternate roles as they stroll in and out of the room, adjusting personality and body language to portray generations across centuries.

Lewis plays a matriarch with dementia and a young child with equal ease. Harwell is menacing as a domineering father and a lecturing grandfather. Story is humorous as the teenage girl mixing gin, vodka, and Fresca before becoming the WASP-y Aunt Harriett showing off her crystal finger bowls. Gimblin commands attention as an adored mother and a concerned daughter. Jackson pouts as the young boy begging to sit at the dinner table and swaggers as the architect wanting to partition the obsolete room. And Giron is a plaintive lover negotiating several affairs in several stories.

Audience members who expect theater to tell a single continuous story may be frustrated by the disjointed narrative in which the only constant is the room itself. But those with more open minds about narrative structure will enjoy these 18 scenes, which provide some uncomfortable insights with good humor and great antics.

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