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THEATER REVIEW / 'THE DINING ROOM' : Cast Makes This Play a Sweet Deal : Playwright A.R. Gurney's work reflects on lifestyles of the rich, white social class.


In "The Dining Room," playwright A. R. Gurney applies his cultural magnifying glass to a section of American society that hasn't been chic in the theater in the last few decades, "Annie" notwithstanding: old-money white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

Presented by the Conejo Players as part of their Sunday Afternoon Theatre series, the 1982 play is a nice counterpoint to the company's current production of "The Man Who Came to Dinner," which presents the same social class from a somewhat different perspective--for one thing, the Kaufman and Hart play dates back to 1939, when WASPs still were fashionable on Broadway.

"The Dining Room" is notable for its gimmicks, though it ultimately rises above simply being a gimmicky play. The play employs a cast of six, each of whom assumes many roles, from youngsters to old folks.

Its many vignettes take place over several generations, all set in the dining room of an old home in an unspecified, probably Eastern city. Both the room and its furnishings are evidently meant to represent several such environments, and the characters appearing from sketch to sketch are not necessarily related--though some reappear.

No great truths are revealed, though there's much knowing insight as Gurney's characters love, squabble and otherwise act like real people, albeit those who use finger bowls between courses, employ maids (if only on a part-time basis) and refer to the tail-like appendage at the end of a Thanksgiving turkey as the "Pope's nose."

All of this looks more complicated on paper than it appears on stage, thanks to Gurney's craftsmanship and to the ensemble cast assembled by director Marianne Corney.

Dashing on and off the stage, changing costumes, ages and (in at least one case) hairstyles as scenes cinematically fade into one another are Beverly Graham, Paul Kaiser, Debi Lewis, Paul Marquie, Melanie Maynard and David McMoyler.

None merits singling out; they're all that good, and each gets to really sparkle from time to time. And it bodes well for future productions that Graham, Kaiser and Lewis are all making their Conejo Players debuts.

They're generally most convincing playing their own age--or close to it--adults portraying youngsters generally tend to get entirely too cute, and here is no exception. To their credit, the actors generally avoid any temptation to display advanced age by affecting stooped posture and cracked voices.

"The Dining Room" uses Darrel Gustafson's stage set for "The Man Who Came to Dinner," augmented by a medium-sized dining table. Jere Rae-Mansfield is credited with the wide range of costumes.


"The Dining Room" continues Sunday afternoons through July 18 at the Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road, in Thousand Oaks. All performances are at 2:30 p.m. General admission tickets are $5 each, and no advance reservations are taken--sales are on a first-come, first-served basis. For further information, call 495-3715.

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