BWW Review: THE DINING ROOM Delights at Douglas Anderson School Of The Arts
My strongest family memories didn't happen around a dining room table, although my parents still eat around the same table I ate at when I was a little girl: a "kitchen" table turned coffee table, thanks to a handsaw and a good imagination. That solid hunk of furniture has been in our family for almost 30 years, and if she could talk, she would have stories to tell.
A.R. Gurney's THE DINING ROOM, a play in two acts, presents the audience with a series of vignettes with nearly 60 characters, all played by only 7 actors. Covering decades of family life for North Eastern "WASPS"s (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants), this disappearing upper middle class is poked fun at in moments, revered in others, and delectably exposed in Douglas Anderson School of the Arts' production of this Pulitzer nominated piece.
Directed by supernatural force Simone Aiden, you will quickly forget these are high school students - high school students that are fiercely and effectively delivering about 8 characters each in the course of two hours. Mario Noto, making his acting debut at Douglas Anderson, is completely convincing as a 5-year-old boy, employing just the right amount of physicality with the perfect touch of childhood panic. His portrayal of a hobbling, incredibly wealthy, often forgetful grandfather in his following scene makes an even stronger impact when you remember he was just the little boy serving ice cream in a party hat. Erin Elkins, a DA junior, delightfully delivers several contrasting characters, making her mark as Meg, a woman struggling to figure herself out in a rather unwelcoming culture. Alex Aponte, a standout in tonight's performance, takes the cake for a flawless moment of improvisation - a moment so minuscule that many in the audience perhaps didn't notice, but is evidence of intentional direction in the classroom as well as onstage.
Outstanding technical merit was served, as well. An absolutely perfect set design by Nolan O'Dell complemented the deliberately appropriate music choices and prudent dialect training by Simone Aiden. Geoff Moss's warmly lit design invited the audience to be present at the table with these zestfully crafted characters, aided by the carefully calculated scene change art of Susan Peters. Opening nights (such as tonight) can come with blunders, and while the cast occasionally tripped on their lines or entered half a second too soon, it all dissipated as the audience was privileged to witness young adults truly communicating with one another, without a cell phone in hand, without a hashtag reference, without a selfie.
Social media, 4k televisions, and ever evolving office hours contribute to the disappearing aesthetic of the formal dining room. Study after study (and yes, there are actually studies on this - several even) show that the dining rooms of old are being repurposed as libraries, offices, and sunrooms in modern homes. Even I don't use my dining room with its intended purpose: it's become a 4th bedroom. While dining rooms are disappearing and you likely won't find a large population of WASPs in Jacksonville, what you can devour is a couple hours of nostalgia and provoking conversation at Douglas Anderson this weekend. Running through April 8th, you do not want to miss this delicious slice of human connection. Tickets are available at the door or by calling the Douglas Anderson Box Office at 904-346-5620 ext. 122.