Dinner Theater Production Illustrates State of America’s Dining Rooms

The attractive stage set (from designers Jami Hughes and Jeremy Kucish) provided just what the show’s title promised: “The Dining Room.” The imaginative A.R.Gurney play has completed a two-weekend run as Montgomery College’s summer dinner theater offering. It was a most unusual production, and very well carried off under the capable direction of David J. Marco. The food was pleasant also, with salad, entree (choice of marinated grilled chicken or braised beef tips), steamed fresh veggies, rolls and fresh strawberry cake (compliments of Kroger’s) all included in the reasonably priced show ticket at $20.00.

I describe the play as “unusual” because it is constructed as a series of unrelated vignettes sharing the common element that they take place in the dining room. The cast (Mandy Moss, Jeremy Kucish, Lorne Kelly, Nicole Key, Rick Evans, Jami Hughes, Matt Sanders and Emily Bell) had the unique task of playing a vast array of characters in numerous scenes that have no connection to one another. This is no small undertaking, but it is wonderfully achieved by all of the participants. The scenes flow effortlessly, from one to the next, as characters walk in and out of the dining room; and how appropriate it was to present this particular production in a dinner theater setting.

We open with Sanders’ excellence as the intimidated son of an excessively demanding father, cruelly played by Evans. Hughes is delightful as the long-suffering and verbally abused maid. Suddenly a new scene emerges with Hughes convincing as tyrannical mother to her whining daughter (Ms. Key), who wants to go and see “St Joan” with her aunt rather than attend dancing school. As this fun subsides, we see a scene with Mr. Kelly as an equally whiny boy who, while home “sick” from school, tries to convince the family maid not to quit: “I promise I’ll pick up my towels and be more careful when I pee!”

Evans returns as a slick architect in a scene with Kucish portraying a psychiatrist who wants his home renovated. The architect wants to break up the dining room, but soon ends up breaking down as the doctor analyzes his childhood dining room traumas with an amusing bit of unanticipated therapy. This was followed with uproarious merriment in a scene with Hughes as a harried mom trying to explain proper birthday party table etiquette to her four wild youngsters (Bell, Kelly, Key and Sanders). Their antics with ice cream and cake were the best howl of the night, and I wish I had the scene on videotape so I could enjoy it again! It reminded me of a certain spaghetti supper I had at my cousin Matty’s house when we were misbehaving kids.

Next, Evans plays a cantankerous, wealthy grandpa from the school of hard knocks, while Kelly is the grandson who aspires to the Ivy League good life and hopes for financial aid from his grandfather. As a native of the Empire State, I loved Grandpa’s attempt to discourage him saying: “Why would you want to meet anyone from New York?” Then followed a scene with Kucish as a carpenter hired to do work in the dining room by the owner (Ms. Key). It is played out adorably under the table as they flirt while examining it. It must have been a tricky scene to light properly, but the job was well done.

Bell does an exceptional job in a poignant Thanksgiving dinner scene featuring her as a senile mother who doesn’t recognize her family. Her sons (Kelly, Sanders, Evans) jog mom’s memory by singing a sweet trio of “Aura Lee.” Then we meet Bell and Key as rebellious adolescent schoolgirls alone in the house and watering the gin and vodka so they can steal a bit for themselves. That scene fades to another in which Kucish gets caught in an affair with Moss when her son (Sanders) arrives home unexpectedly from high school. Does this sound like a lot of entertainment for one evening? Yes, it was!

Kelly does a great job as an anthropology student who infuriates his elderly aunt when she discovers that his visit to her lovely home is a study in vanishing cultures! Then emerges a scene in which Evans’ daughter, Ms. Key, wants to move back into her parent’s home and bring her three young children along for the ride. It seems her marriage is the victim of a scoundrel husband, and a few affairs of her own with not only men, but a woman as well! Yet another set-up has Hughes as an exasperated wife whose blue-blooded husband (skillfully played by Kucish) insists he must hurry to “the club” to avenge a verbal insult that intimated his brother was gay. Moss is a scene-stealer as the eye-rolling maid.

As things wind down, Evans portrays a father going over the hilariously excessive details of his estate plan with son, Kelly. He may have summed up the state of dining rooms in America when he quipped: “Nobody goes near a dining room anymore. Pretty soon they’ll be eating in bathrooms!”

(The Courier    7.20.00)

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About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the Lambs Club, he is also editor of The Lambs' Script. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net.
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