Guess Who's Coming For Dinner?
The Magic Circle Center's The Dining Room turns WASPy tradition on its head.
Thursday, November 20, 2003
We all know that life is fleeting, and that the values we set store by will, one day, seem quaint and antiquated. Before long, we are all candidates for anthropology projects by our descendants.
In The Dining Room, currently in production at Magic Circle Center, writer A.R. Gurney takes a humorous and loving look at the dying traditions of the great American WASP. The play gives us brief glimpses into the lives of some fifty-plus characters, all portrayed by an ensemble cast of six actors. The glue that holds the play together is a single setting: the dining room in a gracious upper-middle-class home. While time periods change as quickly as attitudes toward the dining room itself, the characters'' needs remain as constant as those of all humanity: love, understanding, acceptance, belonging.
Magic Circle''s production, directed by Elsa Con, boasts a strong ensemble cast. Although in one or two scenes Con''s direction encourages the actors to go somewhat over the top in their stylistic choices, by far the direction of the majority of the play elicits honesty and a deep commitment to character in all of the actors.
Tim Hart is terrific in every one of his roles. He distinguishes, with subtlety, between a hard-line, emotionless paterfamilias and a repressed New England head of the family facing his impending death. But Hart also finds the nuances in a range of young men: from a tot at a birthday party to a teenager finding his legs.
Also very strong is Richard Boynton. Though perhaps a bit caricatured in his portrayal of a gay architect, Boynton finds the truth in each of his other characters, from a stuttering son of a domineering father to a nephew come to his rich uncle begging for private school tuition. This scene was particularly touching, as the three actors involved worked so seamlessly together that a potentially very difficult reversal in character and content became one of the more moving moments of the production.
Elizabeth Miles, the third element of this scene, brings such specificity to her characterizations that she is a rich addition to the show. One of her most memorable moments is as a divorcee who discovers a strong sexual attraction to her furniture repairman. Miles'' childlike openness and enthusiasm are particularly engaging.
Dawn Flood finds pure truth in each of her characters, from a tot to a teenager to a troubled adult trying to return to the womb. Her performance as an aging African-American housekeeper is particularly affecting; Flood is touching and very funny. Her grounded presence is an asset to the production.
Laura Cote and Fred Herro are welcome additions to the ensemble, though neither is able to create the subtleties or find the specific choices that cleanly differentiate each of their characters from the others. Still, both seem so comfortable on stage and are clearly so engaged in the play and its characters that one easily overlooks their weaknesses. Cote also designed the set which speaks to the elegance and the decay around which the play revolves.
While reminding us that our traditions have a desperately limited shelf-life, The Dining Room also shows us that those traditions still have the power to bring us together.
THE DINING ROOM SHOWS AT THE MAGIC CIRCLE CENTER FRIDAYS AND SATURDAYS AT 7:30PM AND SUNDAYS AT 2PM, THROUGH DEC. 14. TICKETS ARE $20/ADULTS, $17/MEMBERS, SENIORS, STUDENTS AND MILITARY. 8 EL CAMINITO ROAD, CARMEL VALLEY. 659-1108.