Live theater returns to the Sunshine Coast with the Driftwood Players production of The Dining Room launching a run of eight performances at the Gibsons Heritage Playhouse on March 31.
American playwright AR Gurney’s two-act comedy of manners is the Driftwood Players’ first in-person show since their portrayal of Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) in 2019, shortly before COVID-19 shut down the run drama company. by volunteers. .
“Driftwood Players has always featured local amateur players, and audiences have enjoyed seeing their friends and neighbors on stage,” said Dining Room producer Bill Forst. “In the case of The Dining Room, the situations will evoke humor and pathos as the scenes glide in and out of this house’s decades.”
The production is directed by Mac Dodge, a veteran of many Driftwood Players productions, while Jeanne Sommerfield is stage manager.
The play is set in a single northeastern United States dining hall and chronicles the seismic shifts in family customs and attitudes during the 20th century. In alternately comical and nostalgic scenarios, seven actors embody more than 50 different characters. (Dramatic disclosure: The Coast Reporter arts and culture writer is a cast member.)
“I’ve never played in a room where I have an 87 range [years old] at 12,” said Tim Anderson, who portrays a fading father figure as well as a giddy guest at a birthday party.
According to Mary Beth Pongrac, whose roles include a libidinous divorcee and an avid maid, performing lightning-quick character changes required special effort. “Playing with multiple kids and multiple ages was the hardest part,” she said.
Scene by scene, The Dining Room offers slices of life from middle-class white culture as their sense of entitlement gradually unravels – the result of increased social mobility and growing awareness of the pitfalls of prejudices.
The play, which premiered off Broadway in 1981, was one of many written by Gurney that depicted the decline of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant lifestyles by humorously broaching his vanities.
In The Dining Room, a husband’s concern for family heirlooms blinds him to his wife’s desire for a full-time career. The fastidious hospitality of an elderly matron becomes the object of an anthropological study by her nephew. A family patriarch warns his grandson of the dangers of traveling the world, warning him that in his absence “an Irish type, a Jewish gentleman” could supplant the family’s position in society.
American isolationism and xenophobia are firmly in Gurney’s sights, but wrapped in linen napkins and illuminated by the afternoon light of French doors.
“I think the piece is provocative enough and subtle enough that people are encouraged to talk about what’s going on in their dining room,” Dodge said. “Like the time they went drinking there, or the first time someone went out [of the closet].”
Rehearsals began in January, when it was unclear whether public health orders would allow in-person performances. During three months of preparation, several cast members contracted COVID-19, which necessitated extended absences.
“As a director,” Dodge said, “I thought it was going to be a real challenge. But there was so much support from the team at Driftwood — the props, the costumers, all the way So I could focus on the performers and hopefully give them what they needed to put on a good show.
“It’s great to be back.”
The Dining Room plays at the Heritage Playhouse with performances at 7:30 p.m. on March 31, April 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9. Two mornings are scheduled for April 3 and 10 at 2 p.m. Ticket details are at driftwoodplayers.ca.