The Cary Players’ presentation of The Dining Room by A. R. Gurney is a fine community-theater production by an up-and-coming theatrical troupe under the sure-handed direction of Debra Zumbach Grannan. Grannan, who played a cameo as a real estate agent at the start of the June 26th Sunday matinee, has cast this episodic comedy well and elicited crisp characterizations from almost every cast member.
In a show that has 19 scenes and no recurring characters, there are a number of vivid comic vignettes, all performed at or around a big, expensive dining-room table and matching chairs. Grannan sets a brisk pace and set designers Bob Grannan, Brad Munda, and Greg Lytle; costume designer Diana Waldier; hair and make-up designer Kat Thompson; and props mistress Gale O’Neal, assisted by Cheryl McConnell, all make important contributions to the show’s look and feel.
After Grannan shows the old home place to a prospective buyer (played by her husband Bob Grannan), Susan Berry and Wilson Pietzsch get the comic ball rolling with their incisive performances as Sally and Arthur, a middle-aged brother and sister divvying up their mother’s estate.
Berry and Pietzsch go on to play an amusing array of characters, and so do Chris Brown, Kathryn Flanagan, Thom Haynes, Lindsay Kilgore, Nicola Lefler, Alex Marshall, Cheryl McConnell, Holly Minter, and Steve Whetzel.
I especially enjoyed Steve Whetzel and Thom Haynes as two guys discussing converting the dining room into a psychiatrist’s office; a children’s birthday party, with Nicola Lefler as Winkie, the seven-year-old birthday girl; Kathryn Flanagan and Lindsay Kilgore as two young women on the prowl while their parents are away; Susan Berry and Thom Haynes as illicit lovers shocked by the unexpected return home of her son (Wilson Pietzsch); Alex Marshall and Cheryl McConnell as a nephew who wants to photograph his aging aunt’s place setting for an anthropology project on WASPs; and Chris Brown and Holly Minter as a father and daughter who have an eye-opening chat about the impending breakup of her marriage.
All in all, the current Cary Players’ production of The Dining Room serves up laughs in every scene. So, consider this review a mere appetizer for a delightful full-course theatrical entertainment.
The Cary Players present The Dining Room Wednesday-Friday, June 29-July 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center, 119 Ambassador Loop, Cary, North Carolina. $14 ($12 students and seniors). 919/469-4061 or http://www.caryplayers.org/newsite/tickets.htm [inactive 9/05]. Note: The June 29th performance will be audio described by Arts Access. Cary Players: http://www.caryplayers.org/ [inactive 3/09]. Page Walker Arts & History Center: http://www.townofcary.org/depts/prdept/facilities/pwhome.htm [inactive 8/05]. A.R. Gurney: http://www.stage-door.org/authors/gurney.htm [inactive 1/08].
The Cary Players will present The Dining Room, a contemporary comedy by A.R. Gurney (Love Letters and Sylvia), June 22-July 1 at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center in Cary, NC. The show made its New York debut in February 1982, and earned Gurney a nomination for the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was Gurney’s first big critical and commercial success.
“[The Dining Room] was the hot new play in New York City the year I moved there,” says actress-director Debra Zumbach Grannan, who will stage the show for the Cary community theater. “I was a ‘starving actor’ with a young child, so I couldn’t afford to see it [in New York], but my acting partner and I used a father-daughter scene as one of our audition routines and I really liked the writing.”
Grannan, who played M’Lynn in the recent Theatre in the Park production of Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling, adds, “I realize a number of school groups and community-theater groups had produced it, probably drawn to it by the opportunity to use a really large cast. I wanted to do it as Gurney intended it, with actors playing different roles. I read it again last fall, and it made an even bigger emotional impact on me than it had 20+ years ago!
“What I like best about this play,” Grannan says, “is that it is an actor’s dream: the opportunity to show a range of style, age, and emotion all in one play. I wanted to direct it because I knew it would be a challenge … but also because the stories are so touching even with the humor.”
Grannan says The Dining Room consists of a series of “18 different ‘everyday life in America’ scenes. Each scene takes place around the same table, but the characters change with each scene. While the families and many characters are upper middle class — and it is easy to poke fun at times — they are also ‘real’ people, and some of their concerns and situations can put a lump in your throat too!”
She adds, “Just to give you an idea of how [some of] the actors switch hats: Wilson Pietzsch [plays] Arthur (middle aged), Billie (a little boy), Grandfather, Chris (a teenager), Fred, [and] Standish (a party guest); Susan Berry [plays] Sally (middle aged), Grace (a controlling mother of a teen), Kate (a frustrated wife), Claire (a teenager), and a party guest; Cheryl McConnell [plays] Annie (the housekeeper), Sandra (a six-year-old girl), and Aunt Harriet (a 60-year-old lady!); Chris Brown [plays] Russell, Billie (a six-year-old boy), Stuart, Jim, and the Host; and Lindsay Kilgore [plays] Lizzie about 12, Peggy about 30, Mother (a little old lady), Sarah (a rebellious teen), Bertha (the cook), and a dinner guest.”
The rest of the cast includes Alex Marshall, Nicola Lefler, Holly Minter, Steve Whetzel, Kathryn Flanagan, and Thom Haynes. Jesica Garrou, Gale O’Neal, and Debra Grannan will play cameo roles of the real estate agent; and Cary Mayor Ernest McAlister, Town Manager Bill Coleman, cultural resources manager Lyman Collins, Bud TV host Joe Moore, Matt Schedler, Bob Grannan, and Dan Martschenko will play cameo roles of the home buyer.
In addition to director Debra Grannan, the show’s production team includes set designers Bob Grannan, Brad Munda, and Greg Lytle; costume designer Diana Waldier; hair and make-up designer Kat Thompson; and props mistress Gale O’Neal, assisted by Cheryl McConnell.
Debra Grannan says, “We are delighted to have the use of the elegant Page Walker Arts & History Center, but while this meant not having to construct French doors, build a fireplace, or simulate hardwood floors, we do have to share the space with the community. The cast has been very patient in working in temporary rehearsal space. We also had a large turnout of many talented people for auditions, and I had to make some tough decisions.”
She adds, “The lighting will take advantage of existing tract lighting in the space; and with the play starting at 7:30 p.m., we’ll be able to enjoy the natural light that will come through the windows. That times out well with the story line of the play, which starts in the morning.”
Grannan says, “The costumes are not unlike the local radio station that claims to be a mix of the 1970s, 1980s, and today! [Costume designer] Diana Waldier is searching second-hand stores, yard sales, and her attic to find just the right look for each scene. The play was written in 1981, but a few scenes occur during the 1930s and we do want a 1970s look for one of our scenes about rebellious teenagers. I wish I’d saved my ol’ blue jeans for that!”
Debra Grannan recommends reserving tickets in advance: “Seating is limited to 60 per night …. This production has been made possible largely in part through support from the Town of Cary Parks Recreation and Cultural Resources Department.”
The Cary Players present The Dining Room Wednesday-Friday, June 22-24 and June 29-July 1, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 26, 7:30 p.m. at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center, 119 Ambassador Loop, Cary, North Carolina. $14 ($12 students and seniors). 919/469-4061 or http://www.caryplayers.org/newsite/tickets.htm [inactive 9/05]. Note: The June 29th performance will be audio described by Arts Access. Cary Players: http://www.caryplayers.org/ [inactive 3/09]. Page Walker Arts & History Center: http://www.townofcary.org/depts/prdept/facilities/pwhome.htm [inactive 8/05]. A.R. Gurney: http://www.stage-door.org/authors/gurney.htm [inactive 1/08].