When six actors perform 54 roles — an average of nine roles per actor — that’s impressive! However, the main character of the Halle Cultural Arts Center of Apex’s May 28-31 production of The Dining Room by A.R. Gurney is the dining room itself — character number 55 — furniture that was manufactured in 1898. Note that it was manufactured by a company, not built by a craftsman.
In the scene in which we obtain this information, the owner is somewhat disappointed that the furniture is not antique, that it is “a copy” rather than “an original.” Indeed, in many of the 18 scenes of which this play is comprised, there is something kind of artificial and pretentious about this dining room. That is, the characters seem to be trying to preserve something that was never really there.
And there is scene that shows an anthropology student in the process of studying, assessing, and analyzing this dining room as it reflects aspects of “a dying culture” — the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant upper-class society represented by this type of dining room.
Jenny Anglum, Chris Brown, Larry Evans, Jonathan King, Denise Michelle Penven-Crew, and Tracey Phillips each turn in an average of nine excellent performances. The children that they play are sweetly believable. The older characters that they portray show a variety of dispositions from curmudgeonly, to patriarchal, to subservient, to lovingly attentive. And we see a wide variety of familial relationships — all excellently fleshed out.
An apron, a jacket, a vest, a shawl, a tie, a sweater … a cane, a hat, a tape-measure, a newspaper — all of these help differentiate the characters as an actor exits as one character and, in less than a minute, re-enters as another. Add to this: changes in hairstyles, different postures and body-language, changes in speech patterns, and an occasional ethnic accent; and the play’s tapestry becomes richer and richer, showing us different characters (of varying ages) and different time-periods.
Thomas Mauney’s set design is excellent — from the table and chairs to the Persian rug and the brick-décor wall-and-hearth backdrop. Jenny Mitchell’s costumes (as witnessed above) complement the characters and the time-periods, doing so with aplomb. Equally impressive is the choice of pre-show, post-show, and between-the-acts music.
The dining room itself is “the where.” What about “the when”? There is a scene set in the pre-World War II Depression. And there is at least one scene that could have been considered “contemporary” in 1982 when the play was first produced. We found ourselves wondering whether or not playwright A.R. Gurney (or producer and director Kathleen Rudolph) had intended to show a linear progression of time. Or were these scenes just in a random chronology?
We witness one character considering buying the dining room (as part of a house that he intends to occupy for a very short time). We see another being encouraged to remodel the dining room out of existence. Another character is desperately trying to preserve it. Others try to preserve what they imagine it stands for. We witness it hosting a child’s birthday party. We witness it as the setting for one man planning (and micro-managing) his own funeral. And we also hear one character describe a dream in which this dining room is the setting.
The final vignette is very satisfying; so is the curtain-call. The Dining Room is a family-friendly show that starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. So, bring the kids — you’ll be home well before 10 nightly or 5:30 on Sunday (unless you had rather stay out a bit).
The Halle Cultural Arts Center of Apex presents THE DINING ROOM at 7:30 p.m. May 28-30 and 3 p.m. May 31 at 237 N. Salem St., Apex, North Carolina 27502.
TICKETS: $12 ($10 seniors).
BOX OFFICE: 919-249-1120 or http://www.etix.com/.
SHOW: http://nc-apex.civicplus.com/calendar.aspx?CID=24, https://www.apexnc.org/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=26, and https://www.facebook.com/events/1453925711585458/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: https://www.apexnc.org/454/Halle-Cultural-Arts-Center, https://www.facebook.com/thehalleofApex, and https://twitter.com/thehalle.
The Dining Room (1982 Broadway play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1279 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.argurney.com/small_casts.html#dinningroom (A.R. Gurney’s website), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dining_Room (Wikipedia).
A.R. Gurney (playwright): http://www.argurney.com/ (official website), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=84220 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._R._Gurney (Wikipedia).
Kathleen Rudolph (producer and director): http://raleighlittletheatre.org/learn/youth/faculty.html (RLT bio).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.