The Dining Room Feasts on Family Dynamics
What was it like growing up and sitting with your parents in the dining room?
For those who shared a meal with their family growing up, the experience can be described as memorable, traumatic or anything in between. Scenes were played out from various families' experiences in Down n' Out Productions' comedy, The Dining Room, in Toronto's Campbell House Museum.
Upon entering 160 Queen St. West (at the northwest corner of Queen at University) we're led up a spiral staircase and into a room. There's about 15 seats on opposite sides, and a large, wooden table in the centre becomes the focal point of the hilarity that ensues....
This equity co-op production, directed by Jonathan Geenen, features a formidable cast of Terrence Bryant, Ben Clost, Madeleine Donohue, Deborah Drakeford, Michael Spasevski and Sarah Wilson. It's hard to believe there were only six actors, as each played at least four or five characters.
Sometimes it was hard to know when a new role was being played, as there were minimal props and often too-subtle wardrobe changes. Bryant, who played the head of the household, did a really nice transition from elderly man to little kid, and back again. Another one of the characters jumped from doting maid to snooty wife within a few scenes.
Often, two groups of characters entered the dining room together, telling their stories over top of each other in overlapping vignettes. The result was rather hard to follow at first, but got easier as the play went on.
Things really came together in second half, as the stories told more of modern times, and how people view a dining room today.
One of the few downsides to this show was the lighting, which I found the rather distracting. There was no dimming of house lights, as it's just one room. As a result, I was able to see the audience during the show. And because it was a relatively small room, the show didn't use any microphones or amplification. I still found some of the actors' voices rather loud at times, as they were probably used to projecting from a stage to an audience much further away.
There's plenty of clever writing in this bit of theatre from A. R. Gurney, punctuated by some poignant dialogue. Especially in a scene where one character interviews his aunt for anthropological class on the "the vanishing American Northeastern WASP." I'll never look at finger bowls the same way again.
During intermission, I got to explore a little more of the Campbell House, which was built in 1822 and is the oldest remaining building from the original town of York. Its little rooms were adorned with many artifacts with "do not touch" signs. Still, it was an interesting look into the past, in what is now a Toronto heritage building.
All things considered, it was an intimate dining room experience. Highly recommended.
The Dining Room runs until January 31 at the Campbell House Museum, with evening shows Tuesday to Friday at 8 p.m. with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. Tickets ($15-$20) are available online or by calling 416-504-7529.
Photo by Brian Bisson.
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