Review: 'The Dining Room' by Phoenix Stage Company at Clockwork

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • @nancysjanis417

Oakville, CT - Colleen Renzullo directed the fine production of A. R. Gurney’s ‘The Dining Room’ running at Phoenix Stage Company at Clockwork. The play is comprised of 19 vignettes set in the  dining room of a well-to-do household as members of the resident family gather for meals and various special occasions. The scenes move along swiftly when performed by eight versatile actors and give us a portrait of the lifestyle of the vanishing breed known as the upper-middle-class WASP. 

The actors change roles, ages, personas and costumes with skill to portray a large number of characters in the interrelated scenes. Some are very funny, some touching, some quite rueful and because each vignette introduces a new set of people and events, the audience is required to pay close attention. There is a lecture by a father to his teenaged son, an aging grandmother facing senility, an adult daughter pleading to return home, a young boy pleading with a maid to stay on and so much more. It might sound chaotic but is really an experience with impressive range, humor with compassion and a knowing comment on humanity. 

Ms. Renzullo, who also directed ‘Veronica’s Room’ with Script Tease and ‘I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change’ in Goshen as well as two children’s productions, writes that she is “really enjoying this directing thing.” It is apparent in this production as the actors manage the frequent entrances and exits, quick changes and multiple characters. Kudos to stage manager Lori Poulin and her assistant Lori Richnavsky for their work backstage.

The actors, some PSC veterans and some new faces, kept up with the action, played a huge number of roles and made it all appear easy. The lovely Tracy Brown appeared in the PSC’s 2014 One Act Festival and played very well a couple of maids as well as a cheating wife. Kristine Donahue, who appeared in Ms. Renzullo’s production in Goshen, made her PSC debut as mostly younger characters. Gary L. Kline also made his debut on the PSC stage but has many recent credits with other theatres. He played characters both young and old and was memorable as the son of an aging father in “Arrangements.” 

PSC veteran Joshua Luszczak smoothly transitioned from child to grandfather. Simone Matusevice made her debut with this company and will return in June for ‘Macbeth.’ This play was on the bucket list of Tim Phillips, another veteran with the PSC, and marks his third foray into the A.R. Gurney catalog, having already done ‘Sylvia’ at the Thomaston Opera House and ‘Love Letters’ with United Arts. My favorite of his ‘Dining Room’ roles was the title role in “Standish Defends His Brother.” KC Ross and Jonathan Ross, both veterans of the PSC stage, always do well with any role they take on. 

The set designed by Harold Pantely and lit by him and Al Hathway was upper middle class without being over the top. A wide array of costumes by Renee C. Purdy and Ed Bassett were extremely flattering and perfectly suited to each scene. Scenic and costume design are very important to the effectiveness of this piece; this production team were well aware of this and pulled it off impressively. 

Before the show, special guest Harold Pantely came out to assure everyone that he and his wife Susan are enjoying their retirement. He congratulated the Phoenix Stage Company on the hard work that they have done to transition to the new and larger space of the Clockwork and prevent the space from being converted to a warehouse.  He appealed to the Clockwork patrons in the audience to consider supporting this company by becoming a season subscriber.

I had the pleasure of being seated next to two of the actors in the upcoming production of ‘Macbeth.’ Kristen Jacobsen will take on the role of Lady Macbeth and NVCC’s Burton Tedesco will play the title character in the Shakespeare classic play coming to the Clockwork stage for five performances only June 10 through June 18. John Long is directing, Tori Richnavsky is assistant director and her husband Rob serves as fight director.  I can’t wait to see Shakespeare on the Clockwork stage, or anywhere for that matter.