Published March 2 - 8, 1994

Theater: Remodeling the dining room

By Mike McGregor

'The Dining Room'
Repertory Actors Workshop
through March 6

When A.R. Gurney's The Dining Room premiered in New York 13 years ago it was a warm look at the changes coming in Northeast America's WASP culture. Taking the formal dining room as his metaphor for the stuffiness of a passing era, Gurney used characters from several families to show the conflict between stock-hoarding elders and fast-moving youngsters.

A play so focused on white America might have become a fossil, but by casting her Asian-American, African-American, and Caucasian actors in parts that suggest the roles of their individual subgroups in the changes taking place in America today, director Kathy Hsieh has given it color and life. An obviously successful young African-American man thinks about buyinga house but questions the need for a large, useless dining room; an Asian-American boy sits at a long dining table and pleads for money to go to boarding school while his self-made grandfather questions the need for an elitist education.

The play ends with a woman dreaming about the perfect dinner party. She names the guests and they enter behind her, sitting down to a feast of fine food and conversation. The scene was meant to be nostalgic, the memory of a bygone era, but with Hsieh's colorful casting it becomes a hopeful view of an America yet to be.  

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