|Teresa Chrisinger, Kraig Williams, and Stan Yeend|
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Once upon a time, there was a group of Americans called “WASPS” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). They generally ranged from the truly wealthy to upper-middle class, and they dominated much of our nation’s cultural, economic, and political structure for generations. WASP culture was promulgated primarily by the females of the species, who did not work outside the home and were inordinately proud of their English heritage, antique furniture, Wedgewood china,
crystal, sterling silver flatware, and Mayflower Society certificates. Their
daughters went to cotillion and became debutantes, their sons attended private
prep schools (Phillips Exeter, anyone?), they belonged to country clubs and
played golf. And their homes had capacious dining rooms where they gathered at
dinner (and often at breakfast, too) for family meals – uninterrupted by
ubiquitous modern distractions like television and telephones.
Beaverton Civic Theatre’s current production of A. R. Gurney’s The Dining Room is a play that lovingly explores and mocks the demise of WASPs as the (self-proclaimed) arbiters of culture in American society. The simple set (a single room dominated by a large dining room table and a correspondingly massive china cabinet) provides the backdrop for a series of dining room-centered stories, each illustrating a different aspect of genteel living.
Even though Doreen Lundberg has demonstrated her skill as a director time and again, we were still a bit nervous about how she would handle a small cast portraying 50+ different characters of all ages in almost a score of separate vignettes. In other hands, it could have been a train wreck, but Lundberg and her 6-person cast find the thematic unity necessary to express the larger story by telling their small tales.
BCT is fortunate to have a core group of talented actors who frequently populate its stage, and four of the six performers in The Dining Room are drawn from this group. We were delighted, however, to see two new faces on stage. Teresa Chrisinger plays ten different parts, ranging from a little girl to an Alzheimer’s stricken grande dame. She is effective in all roles, but her shining moment is the scene (with the other newcomer, Susan Page-Giberson) where two unsupervised teen girls dig into the parental liquor cabinet and create a lethal combination of gin, vodka, and Fresca to help them pass the afternoon. Having been there (up to and including the Fresca and the watered-down vodka) we can attest to the scene’s fundamental authenticity as well as the girls’ ability to capture the mood. Page-Giberson also navigates the gap between various social classes with finesse, one minute the passive-aggressive snob and the next the ubiquitous maid who is not seen and sees naught.
Now to the BCT “regulars” – beginning with Amanda Clark, a wonderful actress who knows how to use her spectacular eyes to sell any part she’s given. Her petulantly defiant teen, who chooses theater with her aunt over dancing school, should resonate with any WASP daughter. Aaron Morrow is at his best when he is playing an officious boor or a befuddled innocent. His take on the psychiatrist analyzing his contractor (a very neurotic Kraig Williams with daddy issues) is particularly funny. The high point of Williams’ many roles is the remarkable scene where, fruitlessly seeking approval, he imitates his father (Stan Yeend) as they read the morning paper at the dining table. Yeend is masterful throughout. He is one of the most versatile actors on Washington County stages, and his seriocomic performance as a doddering old man planning the distribution of his estate is strangely touching.
Those of us who personally experienced the demise of WASP culture (as attested by our Waterford crystal, sterling silver, and 1840’s era dining room table, all inherited from our parents) cannot help but enjoy this show. The real audience, however, must be younger generations who might otherwise never know, first-hand, how little they have missed!
The Dining Room runs through Saturday, March 14th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium, 12375 SW Fifth Street, Beaverton, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays.