Playhouse On Park, West Hartford, CT
through March 8, 2015
by Mary Ann Dennis
There's something about dining rooms that stick in our memory over the decades. Wooden tables and cabinets set the scene for family reunions and celebrations, the sharing of relatives' secrets and discussion of their tragedies.
A.J. Gurney's 1982 play "The Dining Room" is an actor’s dream show. Set in a single room, 18 scenes from different households overlap and intertwine. Director Sasha Bratt is brilliant. He gently leads six actors, who play 50 characters between them, like a master orchestral conductor. The sets, lights and costumes are perfect and the amount of quick changes could have wound up on America’s Got Talent.
The actors portray a wide variety of characters, from little boys to stern grandfathers, from giggling teenage girls to housemaids. The versatility of these actors rotating among the many roles makes for a thrilling experience.
Ezra Barnes excels in his command of the stage as a grouchy grandpa to giddy kid -- his “acting gymnastics” are a perfect ten. Annie Grier is brilliant as she moves from a servant to a mom to a mischievous pot smoking college student. Susan Haefner is alluring as the middle-aged seductress, perky as a young girl who doesn't want to go to dancing school, and alternately poised and aloof as an older women.
Sean Harris plays nine characters; he is stunning to watch. Susan Slotoroff, sparks in her many roles. Jay William Thomas is flawless as he embraces changing personalities and ages with virtuoso skill.
The fact that the culture of private clubs, boarding schools and well-dressed maids has vanished won't bother many viewers; although it makes it a bit harder to feel sympathetic for the characters.
So much has changed in both home styles and families since Gurney penned his play. Still, most people can relate to universal themes of family change, and avid “theater goers” will find the work mesmerizing.