Places: The Dining Room

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1982

First produced: 1982, at the Studio Theatre of Playwrights Horizons, New York City

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy

Time of work: Approximately 1930 to 1980

Places DiscussedDining room

Dining Dining Room, Theroom. Formal dining room in an upper-class or upper-middle-class home in an unspecific place in the United States. Although the play’s eighteen scenes involve eighteen different sets of characters conversing in eighteen different houses, A. R. Gurney’s stage directions call for one set of dining-room furniture–a table, some chairs, and a sideboard–to shape the room for all of the scenes. The room, therefore, has symbolic value beyond mere setting: It demonstrates that although the groups of characters are individual, they are also bound together through a commonality. Whatever the small or large dramas of their lives, they are all a part of a larger culture, bound by the same conventions and rules, and sitting at a common table.

From the opening scene, Gurney points out that the people who inhabit these dining rooms are part of a culture on the wane. The client and the agent both admire the dining room, but the client realizes that he will never use it. In the second scene, Sally and Arthur both long for their mother’s dining-room set as a symbol of their cherished past. The third scene shows a father trying to raise his children to be the sort of people who eat in dining rooms, and the fourth shows a woman who has returned to school against her husband’s wishes. She has dared to use his mother’s dining-room table to type on. For these characters and for many others, the dining room itself represents the pull of tradition and family against the new demands of modern life.

BibliographyBennetts, Leslie. “Theatre,” in The New York Times. May 30, 1982, pp. 4-5.Gilman, Richard. “A Review of The Dining Room and The Middle Ages.” The Nation 236 (April 30, 1983): 552-553. Identifies Gurney as “the poet laureate of middle-consciousness” and discusses The Dining Room as a typical work.Gurney, A. R., Jr. “Pushing the Walls of Dramatic Form.” The New York Times, July 27, 1986, pp. B1, B6. Gurney provides analysis of his own work, his methods of coping with restrictions on artistic freedom, and his new themes and experimentation in structure.Levett, Karl. “A. R. Gurney, Jr., American Original.” Drama 147 (Autumn, 1983): 6-7. A good survey of Gurney’s work up to and including The Dining Room, which is identified as the play that “consolidated Gurney’s reputation.” Also identifies influences on Gurney using some of the playwright’s own observations.Simon, John. “Malle de Guare.” New York 15 (March 8, 1982): 81-82. Argues that the play is derived from Thornton Wilder’s The Long Christmas Dinner (1931) and discusses its “trickiness,” its use of ingenious structural devices.Weales, Gerald. “American Theatre Watch, 1981-1982.” Georgia Review 36 (Fall, 1982): 517-526. Places The Dining Room in a group of ethnic-conscious plays successfully produced in commercial theater over two Broadway seasons.
Categories: Places