Written in 1982, A.R. Gurney's The Dining Room encompasses action that could have taken place any time from the 1930s to the present. The set comprises one room -- a tastefully decorated dining room with formal table and chairs, a sideboard, a swinging kitchen door and open entry to the front hallway. If this wasn't your dining room, then perhaps it was the dining room of a neighbor, a room you coveted for its steadfastness and grandeur.
In Gurney's hands, the dining room represents the constrictions of family and tradition. It is the place where parents shush their children and demand they sit still. More importantly, it is a symbol of a time past and a dying institution -- the intact nuclear WASP family.
In the hands of the Fine Arts Center's Rep and director John Parra, Gurney's prose enjoys a rapid and smooth delivery. Six fine actors -- Tony Babin, Christina Bakken, Ray Bendana, Emory Collinson, Ashley Crockett and Jenice Marshall -- play more than 50 characters in short vignettes illustrating the give-and-take, the warp and weft of family life. There's something here that every audience member will recognize.
For example, in one scene the dining room is portrayed as the room in the house off limits to children. In another, the dining room is a repository for family treasures. "It's like a tomb," says one character, a room filled with the ghosts of former generations.
In a scene featuring a psychiatrist who has recently bought the house and an architect determined to turn the dining room into an office and waiting room, the shrink surveys the grand room and says, "But this room has such resonance."
"So does a church," deadpans the architect, "but that doesn't mean you have to live in it."
As competently as both the drama and comedy are played by the Rep actors, the mood was flat in the first act the night I saw the play. Things picked up in the second act, especially in a couple of farcical scenes.
In one, Babin, playing an overzealous college student snapping photos for an anthropology project lets his elderly aunt go on and on about table adornments. She is mortified to learn that his project is about "the eating habits of vanishing cultures."
In a touching scene near the end of the play, an elderly man outlines his plans for his own funeral to his reluctant son. "We'll talk here," he says to the boy. "No one comes near a dining room anymore."
The pacing, stage design and costuming for this production are all superb. And the actors pull off heroic feats, stretching the accents, their physicality and their expressiveness to depict characters ranging from a sleepy boy hugging a teddy bear to an Irish maid to a cranky old grandfather.
This is a solid production that local theatergoers should support. One can only hope to see an ensemble this talented gathered again on a local stage, tackling material even more challenging.
The Dining Room by A.R. Gurney
Presented by The Rep
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.
Friday, Jan. 14 and Saturday, Jan. 15, 8 p.m.
Call 634-5583 for ticket information or reservations.