Review by Terry Gaisin
Back in 1981 New York; Albert Gurney created a short multi-character play for that year’s N.Y. Fringe. It missed the selection cut; was expanded, and was then re-staged off-Broadway. The 6-actor play is comprised of eighteen vignette sketches centered around an upscale fin-de-siecle dining table in a fancy home. The thespian sextet portray – in just over an hour and a half; myriad scenarios that run the gamut of a potential real estate transfer to a final formal dinner party. In between, the audience witnesses a very posh white Protestant evolution of social mores. There’s a kid’s birthday party; an authoritative father figure;
two teen-aged girls raiding Daddy’s liquor cabinet; disrespect for antiquated ‘Emily Post’ dining etiquette; infidelity; mature seduction; dementia and elaborate hamminess. Thus, an étude for the actors; plus necessitated audience focus and credibility modifications.
West End Studio Theatre, and its director Yo Mustafa have recruited a half-dozen highly talented actors to play the multitudinous roles. Having previously (& positively) reviewed four of them, we were expecting highly professional interpretations and with one critical observation, the result was as satisfactory as expected. For some reason, dialogue volume and projection was in some cases, inaudible. Even moving to the seats closer to the stage still required cupping one’s ears.
The cast is comprised of Jo Kemp, Chris Reid, Linda Spence; Kayla Whelan, Mischa Arvena & Robert Laszcz. The first four are the aforementioned familiar faces. Their abilities to quickly segue into a entirely new character boggles my mind… I even am sometimes awestruck by the summer Festival cast who are so successful in a repertory situation. That may require two different plays per day; almost a dozen roles is more than just impressive.
For me and especially my muse; the vehicle that ends Act I depicts advanced Alzheimer’s. Kemp’s vocal and physical interpretations so closely mirrored those of my late mother-in-law as to bring some eye wetness for both of us. Reid’s empathetic attempts to imbue some reality and face-saving explanations are touchingly humane.
The DINING ROOM is at Oakville’s Centre for the Performing Arts until Jan. 14th. Anyone who appreciates thespian talent should see it, but try for seats close to the stage unless Mustafa makes some vocal projection corrections.