As part of their 2015 season, Soulpepper has revived the 1982 play The Dining Room, written by A. R. Gurney. When this play was first produced in New York, critic Frank Rich referred to it as “a series of snapshots of a vanishing culture.” This is as true as ever in Soulpepper’s production of this play. The Dining Room, directed by Joseph Ziegler, brings the audience on a journey through the decades with the setting of a dining room, where we witness the ever-changing family dynamic. We go from the strict and civilized families of the ‘20s, where sitting in the dining room was a privilege, all the way to the families of the ‘80s who would much rather eat in the kitchen while watching TV.
These series of vignettes (18 to be precise) give us a great commentary on the whole concept of “the family dinner,” showing us how it’s both a great tradition and a way to keep a family together and strong. However, it also shows us the issues that come with it, like the abuse of power from the family’s patriarch and matriarch, the pride and ego that come with having a fancy dining set, et cetera.
At a run time of two hours, some of these scenes may start to feel repetitive and dry; however, there are several that are witty, charming and laugh-out-loud hilarious.
One of the greatest factors that lead to the charm and wit of this production comes from the incredible performances of the actors. This production utilizes the talents of six of Soulpepper’s ensemble: Brenda Robins, Sarah Wilson, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Diego Matamoros, Derek Boyes and Jeff Lillico.
The playbill claims, “The cast plays more than 50 characters, ranging in age from six to 86; from school children to grandparents.” This is not an exaggeration. The cast does an incredible job at changing their characters at the drop of a hat. What is most impressive is when the actors immediately switch from an older character to a younger one, or vice versa. This kind of range is what we come to expect from Soulpepper productions and it is what we were given.
Another important note to make about this production is the incredible amount of detail that was put into the set. The same set and props were used throughout the entire piece with no major changes applied between the scenes, albeit for some placing of the chairs. The detail in the set itself (thanks to Robin Fisher) created a wonderful aesthetic to the piece. The same type of wood (at least that’s the way it looked, I’m no carpenter) used for the dining room table, chairs, hardwood walls and cabinets made up the rest of the set. This, accompanied with a nice warm light, gave the production a very timeless appearance, which was important given that the same set was used to represent several decades.
This is the kind of show that you’re going to want to make a night out of. Grab some tickets in advance, head on down to the Distillery District a little early and grab a drink before heading on into the theatre to see a fantastic show.
The Dining Room is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until March 7. For more information visit www.soulpepper.ca.
photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann