Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
The location has the starring role in Clio Cast & Crew’s season opening production of A.R. Gurney’s quirky and engaging play The Dining Room. If you believe that buildings carry the essence of all who pass through them, or that spirits of visitors past have left a mark, then you will love the concept behind this show.
Six players enact nearly sixty roles to create this montage set entirely in a beautiful dining room located somewhere in a wealthy mansion. As if the room had eyes and ears, small “slices of life” occur and merge with other moments to become a collage of upper crust American life in the 20th century.
Gurney structured the play in eighteen overlapping scenes plucked at random from the room’s history, all of which demonstrate the emotionally integral place the room has occupied in the social psyche of wealthy America.
In order to transition smoothly from one vignette to the next, a player from one scene often remained in place maintaining character even as a new scene began. Clio’s cast even went so far as to switch costumes for each and every character – a feat that had to make backstage an interesting spot!
Director William Kircher’s troupe is a well balanced ensemble. Each has a moment or two to really shine but with many smaller moments that glimmer as well. For Christopher Dinnan, his portrayal of a wise if crotchety patriarch reluctantly doling out money to a grandson was outstanding and contrasted well with his bratty child at a birthday party. Dinnan had perhaps the broadest range of roles to play and he was excellent in each.
Gurney has said that his family provided much of the fuel for this play, both from his own observances and from stories told. Assuming that’s true, one scene was especially fun and quirky when a furniture repairman, one of Mark Bonto’s many roles, was nearly seduced under the table by needy divorcee, Carmen Hudson. Hudson’s roles ran the gamut as well, from teenage rebel to upper class matron.
Connor Klee played most of the younger parts but had a few whacks at older characters as well. He was probably most memorable in two opposing roles – one as a child being dominated by his pedantic father, and the other as a middle-age man having to defend his gay brother from detractors.
Truly riding a range of character ages, Sandy Turner was terrific whether she was a teenager raiding the family liquor cabinet or an aristocratic grand dame detailing the pomp and tradition surrounding the family’s tableware.
Finally, Jane McMillan’s Old Lady was spot on and endearing as Alzheimer’s took over her mind, then her portrayal of a confused daughter pleading to come home was another poignant moment and not what anyone expected.
Through it all, the dining room set remained unchanged. It sat valued, cared for, aloof, but ultimately preserved even when the television age moved America to either the kitchen or the living room. (By the way, many of Clio’s beautiful set pieces are for sale!)
The Dining Room will continue at Clio Cast and Crew, 2220 W.Vienna Rd., Clio, through September 18th. For information and tickets call 810-687-2588.