I think it’s tougher in that there is less of an overall journey for me to help the audience through. I have the end of the play, and endings are always hard. Especially when you have no control over the beginning and middle of a play! You need to wrap things up, make a statement for the whole play, but not get too sentimental with it in this case. We keep it simple, slightly stylized. To me the end is about coming together. It symbolizes the family and tradition of this society. And also celebrates the actors who as an ensemble have worked hard to make this happen.
Are you approaching your section of The Dining Room as mutually exclusive from the other two pieces?
Yes. In fact, I am treating each vignette as if it were its own short play. Since each one involves completely different, unrelated characters, we need to make sure the audience gets the Who, What, and When. The actors are fleshing out their characters, finding the story arc and the “event” of the scene, and working to get what they want or need independently of the play as a whole.
I would actually approach it the same way if I were directing the entire show. Each vignette gives us a different glimpse of an aspect of the “WASPS. Of the Northeastern United States” (to quote a character). Different generations, all sorts of different family dynamics. By giving us this variety of people and situations, the playwright A. R. Gurney allows us to see a full picture of this socio-economic group at a particular time. By writing this way, Gurney lets the sum of the parts create its own arc.
Do you find anything to be particularly challenging about your “slice” of The Dining Room?
I’m not sure my “slice” of The Dining Room” is any more challenging than the others. The main challenge for all of the directors is helping the actors create interesting and unique characters played by the same actors. Also, staging each scene in a dining room (and with the audience on all sides of us) creates a challenge for inventive staging.
However, one of my favorite vignettes in the whole play is in my section, and it is also one of the most challenging. I find it to be stylistically different than most others. It feels big and farcical. I wanted to go whole hog with the farce, but not have it feel like it doesn’t belong with all the other scenes. Also, when doing farce, the challenge is to make it truthful and not go into slapstick. When done well, it allows us to point out the absurdity of things, but not disregard them.
At its core, The Dining Room is about: How people and families can be separated, distant. It is about how circumstance and tradition can push us apart.
Tell us a story from your life that happened at a dining room table.
For the life of me, I can’t think of an interesting story in a dining room! I remember eating. And talking a lot. If this play were called The Living Room, or perhaps The Rumpus Room, I’d have a good one for you.