downtownexpress.com
Volume 20 Issue 17 | September 7 - 13, 2007

Carol Rosegg

The cast of the 25th anniversary of A.R. Gurney’s “The Dining Room,” which enters previews Tuesday at the Harold Clurman Theater.

‘Dining Room’ in no need of remodeling

By Jerry Tallmer

It is like a string of pearls, or what you glimpse from one subway train when it is being passed by another — scene, scene, scene, scene, each scene, each vignette conveying a moment, a life, a relationship, a crisis, a stasis, an attitude, an essence, a turning point, all in this one big old honorable dining room that is many dining rooms before the play is out.

A real-estate agent showing that noble room to a potential home-buyer. (“You shouldn’t have shown me this first. You’ve spoiled everything else.”)

A brother and sister dividing their mother’s furniture, starting with the dining-room table.

 An old-guard anti-New Deal father and his small son (“Half of life is meeting other people.” / “What’s the other half, Dad?” / “Was that a crack?”).

A young wife who needs peace and privacy to get on with her graduate studies and her job.

A mother-daughter showdown over dancing class vs. horseback riding.

A 10-year-old boy begging Annie the maid, who has worked there all his life, not to quit.

An architect who’s bound and determined to reconfigure the workroom of his client, a psychiatrist (“Suppose we open this up here, slam a beam in here, break through here … ”), and then suddenly tenses up with emotional memory. The client, after a pause: “Do you want to tell me about it?”

A children’s birthday party, many kids, much excitement, that all of an instant, as the candles are being blown out, reveals, like a flash picture, the adulterous affair between one of the mommies and one of the daddies. 

A grouchy grandfather laying down the law of common sense.

 More John O’Hara bite: The unexpected return from prep school of a 17-year-old who walks in on his mother’s adulterous affair (“Oh mom”).

And so on and so forth until the big final Thanksgiving family reunion — the entire cast — sitting and gabbing around that table.

An entire cast of six: three men, three women.

The play is “The Dining Room.” It was the big breakthrough for playwright A.R. (“Pete”) Gurney at Playwrights’ Horizons almost exactly 25 years ago, and is being brought to the fore again now — its first major New York City revival — in a Keen Company staging by Jonathan Silverstein at the Harold Clurman on 42nd Street’s Theater Row.

“Thornton Wilder in ‘The Long Christmas Dinner’ had a dining