thediningroom

New to A Seat on the Aisle: guest reviewer Larry Adams, well-known central Indiana actor, reviews our production of The Dining Room which opened recently at Carmel Theatre Company.
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After a long week in the office, at the tail end (we hope) of the World’s Longest Winter, it was truly a treat for me to head out for an opening weekend performance of Carmel Theatre Company’s production of The Dining Room. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to feel this way, as, after a bit of a hike from my geographically-challenged parking space, I found the cozy room at 15 1st Ave NE already filling with eager patrons half an hour before the curtain. Director Ken Klingenmeier kindly directed me to what he called “the ejection seat,” and, after politely declining his request that I write a guest review for his blog, “A Seat On the Aisle” (you can see how much good that did), I settled in for a relaxing evening of central Indiana community theater.

If you’re looking for deep and complex character development and a more traditional single-story narrative, A. R. Gurney’s play, first produced in 1982, is definitely not your ticket. The Dining Room presents a series of eighteen often overlapping vignettes, with six actors portraying over fifty upper-middle class characters in the course of two hours- at first glance, kind of a Greater Tuna: The WASP Edition. But there is, in fact, one constant, one character that never changes, the glue that holds all these seemingly unrelated scenes together: the Dining Room. This more formal, vaguely pretentious and vanishing relic of 20th Century WASPish households acts here as a metaphor for the vanishing upper-middle class culture itself, the culture for which Gurney writes this theatrical epitaph. Here we see the history, the values, the fears, and the challenges of a dying breed in a changing world.

Not that The Dining Room should be mistaken for some relentlessly ponderous, Arthur Millerian piece of theater- as the cast at the Carmel Theatre Company makes clear right from the outset, serving the audience a steady diet of laughs set off by just the right amount of palate-cleansing poignancy. And it’s the cast here that truly is the main course for the evening. Community theater can understandably fall victim on occasion to uneven levels of talent, but these six actors are- to a person- outstanding and well-matched in their skill on the stage. Mark Tumey, whom I’ve had the good fortune to see in several previous productions around town, particularly impressed me with his wide range- completely convincing in both drama and comedy, whether as an eager child or a curmudgeony, old grandfather. Daniel Shock, one of my perennial favorites on stage, was a stitch as both a little boy and the patriarch of a family of nerds (or is it geeks? I never can remember)- a scene that generated the biggest laughs of the evening. His timing, inflections and facial expressions are gifts I can only envy as a sometime actor myself. Barb Weaver was especially memorable for her turn as Aunt Harriet, in a scene designed to spell out more directly the theme of the show (for those- like myself- who are a little more paint-by-numbers on this kind of literary, subtle-meaning stuff than the average bear). Tonya Fenimore consistently hit the mark, whether playing a teen seeking to establish her autonomy or an uptight mother, while the mysterious “Ryan Shelton” (Sorry, no bio in the program, folks- but, hey, it’s community theater, you probably know him anyway) was masterful in balancing both the humor and the pathos of a father who really would rather not deal with the carnage of his daughter’s broken relationships. The most heart-rending moment of the night, however, belonged to Sonja Distefano, whose softly sweet portrayal of a mother suffering from dementia will no doubt bring a tear to the eye of anyone who has experienced the ravages of this disease in their family or circle of friends.

from top left: Mark Tumey, Sonja Distefano, Barb Weaver, Daniel Shock, Tonya Fenimore, Ryan Shelton

from top left: Mark Tumey, Sonja Distefano, Barb Weaver, Daniel Shock, Tonya Fenimore, Ryan Shelton


From a technical standpoint, the show is simply a marvel. Having stumbled through a stint as director of a show myself this past year, a show with a fairly traditional form and only two characters, I could only imagine how much of a nightmare (or perhaps, more delicately, “a challenge”) this show would be to helm, with its unconnected yet overlapping scenes and dizzying quick-change entrances and exits. Not surprisingly, however, Ken Klingenmeier- aided by the versatility of his talented cast and crew- has managed to fit together these interlocking parts nearly seamlessly. The pacing was neither rushed nor slow, and the flow was seemingly effortless- always a testament to just how much effort really is involved behind the scenes. I could also only imagine the back stage flow chart required to keep things straight- that is, I could only imagine it until Ken emailed me a copy later: a color-coded, heavily notated, bar graph that looks like something off a viewscreen on the Starship Enterprise (and not The Original Series, either- I’m talking Next Generation, at least!).

And finally, a few words about the venue itself. It had been roughly six years since I had last set foot in the building, at that time as part of the cast of a Carmel Community Players production. The seats have been replaced (Can we have a round of applause, for that, ladies and gentlemen?), but the intimate atmosphere thankfully remains the same. As an actor, I’ve always loved that feeling of being in the audience’s face- practically in their collective lap- connecting with them, drawing them into the experience. Now, as an audience member, I can tell you that feeling is just as much fun, and something you simply won’t experience at a bigger theater. The cast and crew of Carmel Theatre Company’s current production have taken full advantage of that feeling to produce an excellent offering for the local community theater audience. The table is set. Come to The Dining Room.

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Carmel Theatre Company’s The Dining Room continues at CTC Theatre Fri Sat and Sun March 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 & 16. Evening shows start at 8 pm, while Sunday matinees begin at 2:30 pm. CTC Theatre is located at 15 1st Ave NE in the Arts and Design District in downtown Carmel. Parking for the show is available at the PNC Bank parking lot at the corner of Rangeline Rd. and Main St.- one block west of the theatre. Reservations can be made by calling 317-688-8876. Further information about the cast of The Dining Room can be found at http://tdratctc.wordpress.com/

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