Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

May 9, 2013

Heart of the home

AHS Drama Guild pulls back curtains on Gurney's 'Dining Room'

By Sonya Vartabedian

---- — The Andover High School Drama Guild takes a comedic view of upper middle-class WASPs in New England when it spotlights A.R. Gurney’s “The Dining Room” tonight through Saturday at the Collins Center for the Performing Arts at Andover High School, 80 Shawsheen Road.

The Pulitzer Prize-nominated show, which debuted in New York City in 1982, encapsulates 50 years in the lives of an upper-class New England family, as seen within the walls of their dining room. The action is a mosaic of interrelated scenes — some funny, some touching, some rueful — that, taken together, create an in-depth portrait of a class of people, according to the play notes.

Typically performed by a six-member cast of three men and three women, Andover High theater director Susan Choquette expanded the cast for the school’s production to 12 performers to allow more students an opportunity for stage time.

The drama plays out in a series of vignettes over the course of five decades — all occurring within the same dining room. With each vignette comes a new set of people and events — a father lecturing his son on grammar and politics, a boy returning from boarding school to discover his mother’s infidelity, a senile grandmother not recognizing her own sons at Christmas dinner; a daughter, her marriage in shambles, pleading futilely to return home.

With more than 50 characters in the script, Choquette said the show offers performers a breadth of roles.

Each cast member is responsible for playing as many as four or five different characters across a spectrum of ages, all with distinct personalities and appearances, she said. A male performer, for example, might transform from little boy to stern grandfather from one scene to the next, while an actress goes from giggling teenager to Irish housemaid.

“The youngest characters are 6-year-olds at a birthday party and there are a couple scenes with an older woman who has Alzheimer’s disease and then there’s everything in between,” Choquette said. “For the actors, it’s a challenge trying to differentiate each character they play, not only vocally but physically, while also flipping around to different time periods.”

But Choquette added, “They’re having a ball.”

Choquette staged a shortened version of “The Dining Room” for the Massachusetts Theater Guild’s Drama Festival in 2006, and has always wanted to do the full version. The timing was finally right this spring, she said.

Her cast includes Emily Brownholtz, Christopher Cortner, Michael Hanscom, Rachel Harris, Carter Letsky, Maci Letsky, Conor Meehan, Evan Pantely, Jeremy Partyka, Kate Rigazio, Lauren Wanthal and Amy Welch. Retired high school teacher Douglas Halsted is the show’s producer.

All performances start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15, $5 for students and seniors and are available at the box office.