The Column Online



By A. R. Gurney

Resolute Theatre Project

Directed by Stefany Cambra
Stage Manager – Steve Cave
Lighting Design – Jason Foster
Set Design – Steve Cave
Lighting Design – Danny Macchietto & John Pfaffenberger
Producers – Amy Cave & Danny Macchietto

1st Actor – John Daniel Pszyk
2nd Actor – Ryan Maffei
3rd Actor – David Helms
1st Actress – Rose Anne Holman
2nd Actress – Dayna Fries
3rd Actress – Ashley Ottesen

Reviewed Performance: 6/14/2019

Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

It is appropriate that I saw Resolute Theatre Project’s production of “The Dining Room” by A. R. Gurney two days before Father’s Day. It does show us fathers; some are dominating patriarchs, and some are struggling to hold onto their sense of purpose in life. But the play broadens the focus to give us the stories of families as they come and go through the decades, each tale dancing with elegance around a table and six chairs in a grand formal dining room in an equally grand house. And it is beautifully realized by director Stefany Cambra and a cast of very talented actors.

Much of A. R. Gurney’s work focuses on the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) culture of mostly wealthy families, many of British descent, whose connections and influence flourished and dominated in the United State for the first part of the 20th Century. After World War II, many of these families saw their power and wealth fading. Gurney take us through this history with humor and affection. The dining room, the scene of fancy dinner parties, family celebrations, and personal arguments shows us the glory and decline of a once majestic culture.

The set design by Steve Cave is simple. There is a drawing of a fancy china cabinet on a backdrop and in front of that is the dining table and chairs. That is all. Director Stefany Cambra fills this simple canvas with magical pictures. Beginning with the stylized entrance of the actors moving to whimsical music, we are taken into a world where time and a large cast of characters unfold before us, using the power of live theatre in its most basic form.

It is the actors that build this beautiful dining room for us and the actors who create the little boys and girls, the teenagers, the husbands and wives and lovers, the grandfathers and grandmothers, the servants, and they do so with skill. With simple costume cues (a scarf, a tie, shirt open or closed, an apron) the cast members make each character distinct. Director Cambra has paced the show wonderfully and the transitions from scene to scene are seamless. And the parade of people the actors create was so great that I wouldn’t be able to list or remember them all. This cast is among the best examples of an ensemble cast I have seen in some time. They seem to have great fun working together and exude so much joy and love for the material that it is infectious.

John Daniel Pszyk is delightful in his many incarnations. He is properly stern as the depression era father as he warns about creeping socialism while keeping his children in line at the table. Then there is the garrulous grandfather grilling his grandson who is asking for money to go to a private school. The most touching portrayal, to me, that Mr. Pszyk gave us was of a man dictating his funeral arrangements to his son. It was done with such a delicate sense of vulnerability that it was the most memorable of his characters. But Mr. Pszyk makes all his characters, young or old, come to vivid life.

Among the many people Rose Anne Holman gave us there are two that stood out for me. One was a divorced woman playing an under the table game of seduction with a contractor there to work on the dining room set. It was done with such simple elegance and humor. The other was a woman preparing a dinner party and telling us of a dream she had of inviting everyone to such an event. She conveyed so much emotion that I had tears in my eyes. In addition, she was a delightful child when called on to do so. It was good work.

As the contractor, Ryan Maffei gave depth and warmth to all his characters. Whether playing the lover of the lady of the house or the new owner of the house reluctant to renovate the dining room, Mr. Maffei gives the proper voice and pose to make each character distinct. As a patriarch whose daughter wants to move back home and whose world is falling apart and as an older son listening to his father’s funeral plan, Mr. Maffei shines especially bright.

If I ever need to cast someone as the wife in an upper-class family, Dayna Fries would be my first choice. Her bearing is perfect for the setting. She moves easily from playing the philandering wife flirting with her lover during her child’s birthday party, to a teenager gulping down gin and vodka and Fresca and bemoaning how life sucks, and on to a loyal maid retiring from her position and she makes each character authentic and real. Ms. Fries is fun to watch.

One of the most memorable moments of the night is when David Helms comes into the living room and announces to his family that he is going down to the club to avenge an insult made to his brother, even if it means fighting. The entire scene is heightened to the point of melodrama and Mr. Helms milks every deadpanned laugh he can from it. He also gives us an earnest young college student whose anthropology project with a relative backfire on him. All his work was delightful.

Ashley Ottesen was well grounded in all her portrayals. She was a winsome Irish maid trying to explain to the little boy who adores her that she is leaving her position to get married. Lost in her own past yet polite to the family she does not recognize, Ms. Ottesen breaks our hearts as the aging matriarch who longs to go home to a place that no longer exists. Amid a family drama, Ashley is the long-suffering maid trying to keep the supper alive. She is solid every time she steps on stage.

Each member of this cast comes together to give us this gift of a production. The play ends with the same stylized dance with which it started. It is a dance through time and memory and love and Resolute Theatre Project invites you to join in. Please take them up on it.

Resolute Theatre Project
June 14 – 23, 2019
Friday & Saturday – 7:30PM
Sunday – 2:30PM
Amy's Studio of Performing Arts
11888 Marsh Lane, #600, Dallas, TX 75234
For more information and tickets call 972-484-7900
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