Los Alamos Little Theatre is serving up “The Dining Room” by A. R. Gurney this weekend and the following one.
The play is set in an upper-middle class dining room and made up of a series of scenes of family life, which take place in a variety of time periods around 1930 to the 1980s. The scenes are not chronological and the characters are different in every scene. What ties everything together is the room where they take place. The play’s dining room, designed by Paul Lewis and Cindy Hines, is simply perfect. It’s elegant, beautiful and a bit austere.
In this one room in an upper class house, what would now be called “one percenters” come in for scrutiny as the play unfolds a portrait of East Coast WASP families over time. The play takes a playful, nostalgic look at a vanishing culture. Keeping up appearances is paramount, displays of wealth are obligatory, class barriers are kept firmly in place and traditional sex roles strictly maintained. Children are expected to take their parents’ advice and be seen and not heard.
The formal dining room is the perfect setting for the piece because, while it is a fixture in this sort of home, it is not present outside it. In order to use this room properly, one needs regular formal meals, frequent dinner parties, and you guessed it, servants.
If like me, you don’t come from this background, you’ll feel a bit like an anthropologist investigating an unknown tribe. In fact, this is just what happens in one scene, where a college student puts his aunt and her dining room under the microscope.
The six actors in “The Dining Room” play all 56 roles – changing personalities and ages in the blink of an eye. One scene often quite hasn’t ended before the next begins. It can be a bit confusing, especially at first, when you’re still looking for connections to the previous scene that don’t exist. Without the guiding hand of first-time director Cindy Hines it could have been a real mess, but things go amazingly smoothly.
All six actors do a bang-up job. I especially enjoyed watching Thomas Farish change from a patrician gentleman to a noisy five-year-old. Farish was particularly effective as the grandfather in a scene where a young man’s parents have sent him to beg for boarding school tuition. Gwen Lewis is funny and hits the mark with her characters. Paige Ramsey, Holly Robinson, Ian Foti-Landis and Tim Orcutt also do a fine job.
This is a first-rate production. Go see it.
Los Alamos Little Theatre production of “The Dining Room” continues at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays May 11, 12, 18 and 19, with a matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 13 at the Performing Arts Center, 1670 Nectar St. in Los Alamos. Tickets are $14 for general admission, $12 for students and seniors, available at CB FOX, online at Brown Paper Tickets, or at the door.