Rania Baxter and Joe Tipre (the children) listen attentively as father (Tim Hughes) expounds on world events in a scene from A. R. Gurney's The Dining Room.
A. R.Gurney, one of the most prolific and produced playwrights in America, has earned his reputation as the “WASP writer” because many of his plays reveal and gently poke fun at the issues, concerns, and fall of the former White American bourgeoisie, of which his own family was a part. Gurney’s real triumph, however, is pointed out by Gerald Weales in Commonweal Review, as his “ability to create individual characters within a milieu that might otherwise seem as homogenous as white bread.” During a1983 interview, Gurney commented “The people I write about are not as threatening as they once were. They’re now perceived as another ethnic group. They’re no longer thought to hold they keys to the kingdom.” Gurney’s vivid WASP characters come alive in his 1982 play, The Dining Room. The action of the play takes place in a dining room that represents a host of dining rooms belonging to a host of different characters. Fifty-seven characters in total are created by the ensemble of 3 men and 3 women as the action swirls in and out of various dining rooms belonging to the vanishing upper-middle class WASP.
The cast of The Dining Room gathers around the table for rehearsal of the play being mounted by the Stage Center Theatre at Northeastern Illinois University. Clockwise from bottom left: Tim Hughes, Rania Baxter, Joe Tipre, Anastasia Harold, Bill Mayer, Jamie Beth Henkin.
Gurney explained the origin of The Dining Room in Showbill (June, 1982):
“I soon found myself writing this strange play which kept wanting to take place in a dining room. . . This was the room where my parents used to give their sparkling dinner parties, the laughter from which I could hear echoing up the stairs long after I had shaken hands and been sent to bed. . . Yet just as I used to squirm in my seat at the strictures of the dining room, so did my rebelliousness assert itself against these rules of drama.”
Aunt Harriet (Anastasia Harold) explains the eating habits of white Anglo Saxon protestants to her nephew (Joe Tipre) in a scene from A. R. Gurney's The Dining Room.
Gurney admits, “I’ve never had confrontations with my family. Writing is my source of psychological healing.” Although his playwriting has had a therapeutic effect on Gurney himself, it strained real-life relations with his father and other members of his family as they recognized themselves in his characters and plot lines. He had, in fact, dramatized such familial events such as his grandfather’s funeral and his grandmother’s senile delusions. Subsequently, Gurney was known to re-write portions of dialogue and plot on the nights his family attended performances, fearing they would recognize themselves and become upset. In reaction to Gurney’s propensity to dramatize familial events such as his grandfather’s funeral and his grandmother’s senile delusions, his mother commented, “He says he has to write what he knows about. You just never know what’s coming out next.”
Margery (Jamie Beth Henkin) and Paul (Bill Mayer) have a romantic encounter underneath the table in a scene from A. R. Gurney's The Dining Room. The play opens at the Stage Center Theatre of Northeastern Illinois University on February 24th.
Gurney’s other well-known plays include Scenes from American Life (1970), Who Killed Richard Cory? (1976), What I Did Last Summer (1983), and Love Letters (1990)
Back to the Scrapbook of the Stage Center Theatre of NEIU.
Back to the Stage Center Theatre of NEIU Home