Thursday, May 9, 2013

Go Inside "The Dining Room"

May 9, 2013

By Aneesha Kudtarkar
Directing Fellow

In the last few weeks we finished technical rehearsals, previews, and opened A.R. Gurney’s The Dining Room.  It’s been such an exciting journey with this cast.  Watching them grow from the first day of rehearsal to opening night has been amazing.

The Dining Room Set Design by Michael Yeargan.  Photo by John Mosele.
Tech rehearsals are when all of the technical elements—lights, scenery, props, and costumes finally come together in the theater.  Up until that point the cast had been rehearsing with Mark in a studio space in Manhattan.  We’d seen certain elements of the set like the dining table and chairs, but none of it had been painted yet, and we had only seen pictures and sketches of the set.  Finally getting into the theater last Thursday was really exciting.  Michael Yeargan’s set is stunning and an interesting take on the traditional dining room.  After arriving at the theater and taking a quick tour, the cast was excited to explore the stage and to see everything up close for the first time.  They couldn’t wait to start working on their scenes in the actual space and get a sense of what it would be like to perform in a space that’s much larger than our rehearsal studio.  However, contrary to what you might think, technical rehearsals rarely start with a full run through.  Mainly they’re very slow moving as the director and the designers work through the show on a moment by moment basis.  This is when all of the big technical decisions get made.  Do we want the lights to change on this line or the next one?  Can we see it again with music underscoring it?  Is there any way to slow the movement of the swinging door?  Can we get more gold in this light cue?  All the way through notes are being taken and changes are being made.  For The Dining Room we have an excellent team of designers, including two 2013 Tony Award nominees: Set Designer Michael Yeargan and Sound Designer John Gromada.  They’ve all worked with Mark in the past and have a little bit of a short hand when they talk to each other.  They’re also very good at collaborating—sharing their opinions when it’s helpful, but also respecting that they’re a part of a team.  One of my favorite things has been watching how Steven Strawbridge’s lighting design has taken Michael’s set to a whole new level.  The play takes place over the course of one day in a single dining room and he’s found a way to have the lights really reflect that.  We see the room transition from early morning to early evening and finally night time and it really is magical. 
Chris Henry Coffey, Jake Robards, Jennifer Van Dyck, Charles Socarides, Keira Naughton, and Heidi Armbruster.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.

One of the challenges of the script is that there’s not a single linear plot line.  It’s a series of scenes that involve dozens of characters played by six actors.  Our actors have handled this challenge beautifully and have created rich back-stories for each of their characters.  One of the things Mark asked them to focus on early on was having a clear “moment before.”  A clear idea of where there character was coming from and how they’d come to be in this situation.  One of the things that kept the mood light and energetic was the cast talking about their character’s lives off stage.  They’ve gotten to the point where they know their characters so well that they can joke and tease each other about how no one really wanted to invite “Brewster” to the birthday party or that “Aunt Harriet” probably has six cats and is a widow.

Previews are the period when the show is being performed for an audience, but small changes are still being made.  Sometimes it’s hard to gage if a moment is working on stage until you see it played out in front of an audience so they’re an important part of the process.  Most people don’t realize that during previews, we’re still in rehearsal.  The actors are still working on the show in the afternoon, making changes based on notes from the previous night’s performance, and then performing it at night.  This show and cast have been really wonderful though and the pre-show rehearsals have been short and very detail oriented.  For me personally it’s been exciting to see the cast come alive in front of an audience--especially on opening night.  There’s always a buzz in the air when a show opens.  It’s equal parts nerves and relief.  I thought The Dining Room opening went really, really well and from what I can tell the show has continued to delight and entertain audiences since then. We've recently added a performance due to high ticket sales and so The Dining Room closes on May 19.  Trust me when I say you don’t want to miss out on this fun, funny, and very moving show.

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