Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 7, 2016

The Dining Room

Theatre Guild of Simsbury, Simsbury Methodist Church, Simsbury, CT
Through April 10, 2016
by Stuart W. Gamble

A.R. Gurney’s plays have been staples of the theatre for over 30 years (“Love Letters,” “Sylvia,” etc.), which makes the latest local incarnation of his cleverly written “The Dining Room” seem familiar. Simsbury Theatre Guild immediately immerses its audience in the world of upper class W.A.S.P. society full of neuroses and humor, heavy on the scotch and soda.

For those not familiar with the dramatic structure of this comedy/drama, the action revolves around various families at the dining room table in a home somewhere in the suburbs. If the table could talk, it would reveal much about the denizens of this house. But since it can’t, the theatergoers are given brief glimpses into the lives of some 50 characters played quite convincingly by only 15 actors.

Act I is weaker than the second, but a couple of scenes standout, one of which takes place at the breakfast table of a very uptight family. Father (Steve O’Brien ) cannot tolerate a single seed in his freshly squeezed orange juice and controls and contradicts every word and action of his impressionable young son (Nick Parisi). Both actors mine hilarity that anyone who has been a parent or child (all of us) can understand. At the same time, the play introduces the privileged world of the noblesse obliged with its tennis courts, private schools, and accompanying prejudices.

Act II takes off with funnier and more poignant moments. Perhaps the best of these is the show-stopping eleventh hour scene in which an outrageously pompous clan ( Nick Parisi, Virginia Wolf, Donna Sennott, and Steve O’Brien) and their faithful Irish maid Bertha (Penny Carroll) react in hilarious fashion when the uncle’s “bachelor attachments” (homosexual) are called into question at the country club besmirching the family’s honor. Played at such a frantic, farcical pace, the direction is aptly able to make earlier, less funny moments seem better than they are.

Although overall well-cast, a half-dozen of the actors bear special mention: Melissa Veale in dual roles of picture-perfect mothers and a rebellious teen; Penelope Kokines as two very troubled adulterous alcoholics; Nick Parisi in a hilarious turn as father of the dishonored family; and Phillip Godeck, who becomes a variety of sleazy characters.

Top acting honors belong to Steve O’Brien and Virginia Wolf. O’Brien stages each of his characters with such distinction that it seems as if different actors are playing each one. The same goes for Wolf, who relishes her roles with perfectly timed comedy.

Credit belongs to Director Rosemarie Beskind, whose deft hand takes care that none of the scenes or characters outstay their welcome. Beskind understands that in order to capture and maintain the audience’s attention, the action must move, and fortunately, it does.

Often, backstage crew members are forgotten in reviews. That said, kudos to costumer Tracy Weed and set designer Dian Pomeranz’s. Every prop is perfectly places, even the finger bowls.