Review: The Dining Room (Plainstage Theatre Company)

Plainstage Theatre Company presents a play examining WASP culture, on stage in Toronto

If you’re in the mood to see a Gilmore Girls-esque series of scenes deconstructing WASP culture, then head out to the Plainstage Theatre Company‘s The Dining Room, playing at The Box Theatre this weekend (January 13-15, 2017).

The Plainstage Theatre Company aims to rehearse and mount shows in a very short time frame. The idea being that this gives artists experience and stage-time without cutting into their professional and personal lives, something that even community theatre is guilty of doing. I love this idea and would absolutely recommend friends to get involved and even consider doing so myself.

Because of the constraints that arise from mounting a production in two weeks,The Dining Room is a very difficult show to tackle as a reviewer. This is not like Confidential Theatre Project (another one of Abbott’s ventures) where the roughness of the production lends to its charm. Overall, the show felt unpolished and certainly came off as something that had been put together in a short period of time.

The Dining Room is a play by A.R. Gurney composed of 18 short skits depicting New-England WASP families interacting in a dining room. I found it to be very reminiscent of the dinner scenes in Gilmore Girls and the text is fascinating in the way it deconstructs this way of life. Moreover, I think it’s a play that has become even more interesting with time as the culture it is depicting continues to fade in the modern day, a fact that the play acknowledges itself.

The Dining Room is supposed to be a comedy, but I didn’t find it funny as much as it was vaguely interesting. I could see that the humour was there in the text, but it’s very dry to begin with and I felt that the actors were missing the comedic beats, something that could be improved with more rehearsal time.

Through the different scenes, the actors take on very different roles. Considering the constraints of the production, I was very impressed by the flexibility they demonstrated. That said, even though there are supposed to be similarities and cross-over between the different scenes and characters, I felt that they all blended together a bit too much. I sometimes found the way the actors portrayed children to be a bit off-putting, but apart from that each had their moments.

Laura Wilson and Leonard Scott-Colins impressed me particularly with their voice work and movement, which did some work to differentiate the scenes. Thomas Gough maintained a general likability that really endeared me to him across his performances. Jada Rifkin and Alexander Fairlie genuinely had some incredibly funny moments.

Across the board though, my guest and I thought the production seemed unpolished. It’s very difficult to differentiate characters across 18 scenes that are intentionally similar. I can say in earnest that I enjoyed The Dining Room for what it was. But at the end of the day, it was clear throughout that this is a show that was put together in two weeks with actors who could have used more time to rehearse.

If I were friends with or related to any of these actors, I would be extremely impressed by their performances. I don’t mean that condescendingly and I’ll go a step further: if I were an industry person scoping out local talent with the understanding that the show I was watching had been mounted in such a short time frame, I would still be quite impressed. However, coming in off the street to see the show without knowing anyone in the cast or crew, I found myself to be thoroughly underwhelmed.


Image provided by the company