Baraboo campus stages ‘Dining Room’

November 14, 2018

Student actors will play multiple characters in 18 scenes as they explore a disappearing culture in the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Baraboo Sauk County’s production of “The Dining Room.”

A.R. Gurney’s comedy of manners addresses the impact of crumbling societal pillars — tradition, stability and the upper middle class — in a multifaceted collection of vignettes set around another endangered institution, the dining room table.

“It’s about a vanishing culture,” said director Damian Ernest. “That’s sort of his metaphor for a dying culture, the dining room.”

Hectic schedules have prompted many to give up on the traditional family dinner. The trend is so prevalent, most new homes are built with open designs that don’t have separate dining rooms. Lost in this transition were the comforts of togetherness and tradition.

Each of Gurney’s scenes — some comedic, others touching — takes place around the same dining room table. Characters from well-to-do families alternately make fun of the white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture and lament its demise. Actors play little boys and stern grandfathers, teenage girls and Irish housemaids. The vignettes touch on loss, senility, infidelity and sexuality.

“Each one has its own little theme,” Ernest said. “It’s basically like 18 short stories in a collection.”

The 1981 play, which opens Thursday, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for drama, as was Gurney’s famous work “Love Letters.”

“I think audiences will enjoy the heartfelt moments that this play has oozing from every scene,” said cast member Emily DeSanto.

New to campus this fall and not yet familiar with the student body, Ernest chose the play partly because it calls for a flexible cast. This production’s cast is comprised almost entirely of students playing characters ranging in age from 6 to 75.

“There’s something so theatrical about that,” Ernest said. “The audience really has to use its imagination.”

The play is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes poignant and sometimes thought-provoking. “There are moments that are very heartfelt and very honest,” Ernest said. “At times it’s sad, and at times it’s a celebration.”

Said DeSanto: “It will bring every member of the audience a memory of their own. It’s some deep stuff.”

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