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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