DOUGLAS SCHOOL OF THE ARTS THEATRE REVIEW
A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW BY DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, DASOTA, presented a four-day revival of A. R. Gurney’s classic “The Dining Room” during April 5 – 8, 2017. The play ran for almost eighteen months in New York, with an Off-Broadway debut in 1981 followed by a transfer to Broadway the following year, and was a finalist for the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
This local production was staged in DASOTA’s Black Box Theater, which the school often uses for non-musicals. As critics, we have reviewed many plays in this setting and are extremely fond of this particular theatre, as the seating is flexible and the black box aspect encourages creativity with set design and blocking.
The setting for this play is, as the title suggests, a dining room, with a beautiful wooden dining room table as the centerpiece of the action and family life. Seven students portrayed more than fifty characters in some sixteen or so scenes (we sort of lost count). The play was directed by Simone Aden, and was an excellent vehicle for allowing the cast to show off their adaptability and versatility during a time progression that spanned several generations. The script required frequent entrances and exits, and lightning-quick role changes. Characters included family members, friends, and domestic servants: grandparents, parents, middle-aged adults, college-age kids, and young children.
Culture and theatre have both evolved since the 1980s. The play includes references to a number of topics that audiences in the past (and the play’s characters) might have considered shocking, which are often freely discussed in today’s culture. Topics such as divorce, dysfunctional families, homosexuality, infidelity, and senility are touched upon in the script, not in great detail, but enough to make modern audiences think about the differences brought about by the passing of time.
The exceptional cast included Alex Aponte, Anita Diaz, Erin Elkins, Whit Hemphill, Madison Kiernan, Mario Noto, and Marisa Ubas. You will probably be seeing most of these talented performers in “9 to 5” and “Ain’t Misbehavin,” two musicals scheduled later this year.
The hard working backstage crew certainly deserves mention for their mastery of having all the needed props available and supporting the many costume changes. Great job by: Case Cosentino (Deck Crew), Madison Hopkins (Props Crew), Alexis Szczukowsk and Lizzie Robinson (Costume Crew). Rounding out the production team were Elena Holt (Paint Crew), Cayla Canady (Sound Crew), Jaeger Hess (Master Electrician), and The Classes of Mr. Moss (Light Crew).
We were asked if “The Dining Room” had been done before in Jacksonville. We knew that we had seen it but could not recall where. However, local actor Bill Ratliff, who was in the audience on Saturday afternoon, came to the rescue, reporting he was in the play in the 1980s at Players by the Sea and (amazingly), said he could still remember some of his lines.
Are you interested in seeing and supporting future DASOTA productions? Check out the DA Theatre Patrons Club! Go to http://datheatreboosters.org/theatre-patron-club/ to learn more about the benefits of being a patron, which include up-to-date information about scheduled events and discounted tickets.