Elements Theatre Company of Orleans, Mass., will explore the ways in which our culture and relationships have changed over the past 30 years by presenting and discussing A. R. Gurney's Pulitzer-nominated play, The Dining Room, at Nyack College (Nyack and Manhattan campuses) March 4-7, 2013. As part of its annual educational tour, Elements will perform Gurney's comedy of upper-middle class American manners plus conduct talk-backs, workshops, and a panel discussion designed to examine the relevance of theater and art in today's society.
On Monday, March 4 from 5 to 6 p.m., members of the Elements Theatre Company will lead an intensive student workshop on Nyack College's Manhattan campus at 316 Broadway. The workshop will be followed at 7 p.m. by a lively panel discussion titled "How Do the Arts Humanize Culture?" Panelists include Peter Filichia, esteemed New York theater critic and author; SuSan Lee, director of marketing for the Nederlander Organization; Larisa Gelman, director of arts outreach at the 92nd Street Y; and Dana Talley, music professor at Nyack College and former principal tenor with the Metropolitan Opera. Sr. Danielle Dwyer, Elements artistic director, will moderate.
On Wednesday, March 6 at 7:30 p.m., Elements will hold an open rehearsal of The Dining Room on the Nyack campus followed by a Q&A with students. A full performance will be held on Thursday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m., also on the Nyack campus. Audience members are invited to remain for a talk-back with the cast and creative team following the performance.
While The Dining Room focuses on a vanishing class of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) American society spanning from the 1930s to the 1980s, its compassionate humor and abundant humanity is still a captivating expression of the nature of human relationships - whatever the socio-economic class or cultural background. Seven actors play 59 characters in 18 scenes, with characters ranging from a 5-year-old boy to a 90-year-old grandfather. All of the action takes place in the dining room of one particular stately home that through the years has changed hands from one generation or family to another.
In talk-backs, workshops and the panel discussion, Elements company members, students, and special guests will explore the questions raised by a 30-year-old play for Americans now living in vastly different times. What have we gained and/or lost with the disappearance of the traditional dining room? Has technology given us the ability to connect 24/7 but robbed us of the art of developing meaningful personal relationships through conversation? Has the proliferation of frequent but abbreviated tweets and texts made us more or less civil? Has the security of the nuclear family been sacrificed to the freedom from patriarchal oppression? Is the loss of tradition liberating or traumatic? Is dysfunctional communication better than no communication at all?
According to Dwyer, The Dining Room may be populated by a narrowly defined class of Americans but its themes still resonate on many levels.
"Though Gurney's play has a wealthy economic setting, the characters ring true and their situations are universal," Dwyer explains. "Their stories are often quite funny and very moving. The play is primarily about relationships: the beginning of a new one, or the disintegration of an old one; the manipulation between a mother and daughter; the use of a young boy by his parents to wheedle money out of his grandfather; a family trying to cope with their mother's dementia.
"Over the course of the play, and in the past 30 years, the dining room may have faded in importance," says Dwyer. "But what it stands for continues to be relevant. It's a family gathering place, a communal center where, for good or ill, conversation and connection are important. What is the new dining room in today's society, where priorities center on what's fast, convenient, and driven by technology? Our performance of The Dining Room will be the catalyst for a deeper discussion. Perhaps theater itself has become one of the last bastions for humanizing our culture."
Elements Theatre Company is a resident ensemble dedicated to exploring the vitality of the written word and the deepest truths within the text. Through dramatic storytelling and imaginative stagecraft, Elements approaches both classic and modern works with honesty and authenticity. Founded in 1992, Elements Theatre Company is part of Gloriae Dei Artes Foundation, a non-profit arts organization based in Orleans, Mass. Operating year-round, Elements performs three or four shows each year on Cape Cod in addition to touring extensively, presenting workshops and performing at conferences, schools and churches.