A.R. Gurney must be an acquired taste. Though I’d heard about the much-performed (and frequently derided) Love Letters for years, The Dining Room is the first of his plays I’ve seen, and I really don’t understand the appeal.
The play is set in the ornate dining room of a large eastern mansion and is comprised of a series of 18 short vignettes that attempt to paint a portrait of privileged, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant families through the decades. Though Gurney himself cited Thornton Wilder’s The Long Christmas Dinner as an inspiration, The Dining Room exhibits none of Wilder’s talent for verse. Rather, it’s an endless series of short sketches that range from the tedious to the mawkish, never catching any sort of dramatic fire or concluding with an amusing punchline. And—surprisingly—it earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination.
As I watched it, I was often reminded of P.G. Wodehouse’s brilliant skewering of upper-crust English society…and just how far removed this play was from that kind of brilliance.
Director Natalia Lazarus has put together a perfectly adequate production of The Dining Room at the Promenade Playhouse in Santa Monica, but it seems a lot of effort for such a wan result.
The performances by the Promenade Players Theatre Company are also a mixed bag. Clyde FT Small fares best portraying a series of patriarchs, while Edgardo Gonzales is obnoxiously over-the-top in his scenes. When adults play children, it’s always an iffy proposition, and some of the actors portray kids as if they’re brain-damaged.
The setting and technical work by Vincent Lappas is fine, and Lazarus keeps the show moving, but it’s an exercise in frustration, dramatically speaking.
The Dining Room runs through March 3rd Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. Reservations can be made by calling (310) 656-6070 or online.
Photo: Adam Ebert