Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Regional Reviews by Zander Opper
The Dining Room
What's so wonderful about this play is that Gurney has found a seemingly unending series of deeply funny and moving scenarios taking place in a dining room, and it is always clear exactly what time period and what characters populate each scene. And The Dining Room is truly the rare play that gets better as it goes along, filled with wonderful moments and performances. As such, The Dining Room at Playhouse on Park ranks as an absolute must for those who are looking for a pleasurable evening of theatre.
What struck me most about this production is the mastery of the six actorsthree men and three womenwho have the ability to not only change characters from scene to scene, but also their ages and relationships to each other. Each actor plays at least a half dozen different parts and the cast is uniformly splendid.
The delightful Ezra Barnes can switch from a crotchety old grandfather in one scene to a kid at a birthday party in another to a thoughtful psychiatrist, with only minimal costume changes (the impeccable costumes are designed by Demara Cabrera) and employing different ways of speaking and carrying himself onstage.
His fellow actors Sean Harris and Jay William Thomas are equally masterful, with Sean Harris shining in roles as diverse as an architect with more than just work on his mind and a scared adult son listening to his terminally ill father describe exactly how he wants his funeral to be conducted. The boyish looking Jay William Thomas is quite wonderful in the younger parts, from a college boy asking for money to go away to school to a young man afraid that his beloved housekeeper and friend will soon be moving on.
The women in the company are excellent as well. Susan Haefner is especially touching as an old woman losing her memory to dementia, and then proves to be equally skillful playing a teenager sneaking vodka while her parents are out. The richly talented Annie Grier has roles that range from a real estate agent showing off the dining room to a potential client to a wealthy housewife trying to hide an illicit affair from her son, who has just returned home unexpectedly from school. Similarly, Susan Slotoroff excels in various roles from a daughter desperately trying to return home with her three children after a failed marriage to an ever patient maid attempting to serve soup, even as her employer's family is coming apart at the seams.
Of course, the work of the actors would not come across as strongly without a terrific director at the helm, and Sasha Bratt's staging is airtight, even during moments when two different scenes occupy the stage at the same time.
It is only fitting that A. R. Gurney's The Dining Room at Playhouse on Park should conclude with a lovely image of joy (not to be revealed here) that sends the audience out with a deep sense of satisfaction in having seen such a rich and warm-hearted production.
The Dining Room continues performances at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT through March 8, 2015. For tickets, please visit www.playhouseonpark.org or call the box office at (860) 523-5900, extension 10.