"Every generation has to make an effort," preaches an aloof patriarch to his bereft adult daughter in one particularly affecting scene of A.R. Gurney's "The Dining Room." These words echo throughout the 18 vignettes that comprise the play, staged by T.C. Williams in a consistently well-acted and thoughtfully produced interpretation.
Charting the lives of several upper-middle-class families in the 20th century, the play features a constantly changing cast of characters, all of whom make an effort -- often comically, sometimes painfully -- to define themselves through meaningful relationships. A single stately dining room is the setting for all the emotional intrigue.
All the performers played multiple roles. Lauren Trowbridge played sophisticates and maids with commensurate finesse. Rachel Arriaga and Raymond Ejiofor portrayed boisterous children in some vignettes and then shifted to more nuanced performances, such as Ejiofor's nervous adulterer and Arriaga's construction worker.
Beth Wherry effectively alternated between a pre-adolescent boy and a middle-aged sexpot. With poignant restraint, Carol Clark portrayed a mother whose dementia has deprived her of the ability to recognize her own sons.
The dining room set appeared to have been plucked from an elegant New England mansion. The attention to detail lent an atmosphere of realism to the production. Costumes were so subtle that they failed to suggest the decade, but no one could doubt which scenes were set in the 1980s.
Through the upper-crust lifestyle of the characters depicted in "The Dining Room," T.C. Williams's engaging production demonstrated that its ability to stage engrossing human drama is greater than ever.
One dining room. Eighteen families. It might sound like a recipe for disaster, but the only catastrophes on the T.C. Williams stage during its production of "The Dining Room" were written into the script. The production captured all of the insanity of family life and confined it in a single space -- a place for working, arguing, loving and eating.
The play centers on a single room through a series of 18 vignettes spanning 50 years and 56 characters. The times, people and situations change, yet the room and its message remain constant. The room itself is a character, bringing people together in their search for connections.
Student director Abigail Downs rose to the challenges of the format and presented a clean production. Although each scene involved new times and situations, the transitions moved cleanly through overlapping vignettes with only minor confusion regarding time period. The simple blocking maintained focus on the central characters and made the most of the detailed set, also designed by Downs.
The cast faced challenges to present numerous and dramatically different characters over the course of the play. Although some of the scenes lacked depth, many characters projected specific and multifaceted personalities. Carol Clark gave notably strong performances for considerably different age roles, capturing a fidgety child, a rebellious '80s teen, and an aged and shuffling mother. Beth Wherry conquered numerous cross-gender roles. Her comedic portrayal of an aged gentleman concerned with funeral plans was just as believable as her role as a young woman slyly seducing the handyman.
Equally strong in dramatic and comedic roles, Raymond Ejiofor commanded the stage. When playing a man caught in an affair, his nervous habits and jumpiness showed the gravity of the relationship. When he tripped over the doorstep, he displayed a gift for physical comedy.
Rachel Arriaga was a comic standout, with impeccably timed line deliveries and humorous facial expressions, bringing comedy to a reminiscing architect and, in another scene, to a 5-year-old birthday girl. She drew laughs from the audience without speaking, as a maid who simply entered the room and seated herself uncomfortably.
The entire cast demonstrated versatility in its portrayals of various characters. The costumes and makeup, done by Sarah Kell and Laura Toole, helped the presentation, yet the overall strength remained with the actors.
With all the change, two things remained constant: the dining room and the theme of family. After absolutely everything had happened in the dining room, at last the cast sat down to a formal dinner party worthy of the room. As the lights went down for the last time, the audience was left with two glowing candles and a message of friendship and family. It was a dinner party worth remembering.