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Monday, March 14, 2011

The Dining Room

A Grand Dining Room for London, and the politicians don't even get a free lunch!

Last fall, I received an email from Grand Theatre’s artistic director Susan Ferley which contained an intriguing proposal: Would I be interested in participating in a fundraiser at the Grand by taking part in a play? The proceeds were to go to the Grand Theatre’s Make a Difference Campaign which offers no or low-cost programs for children and youth.

How could I say no? And why would I? Here was a great opportunity to meet new people and old friends- politicians, media personalities, local celebrities, entertainers, theatre supporters and philanthropists- and contribute to the community at the same time. Fabulous.  And in such a magnificent venue too!

In January, we received our scripts for A.R. Gurney’s The Dining Room which consists of a series of independent but overlapping scenes through which changing American social mores and conventions among the upper and upper middle classes are examined. 

It’s a terrific play with lots of laughs and a few poignant moments as well. From former police chief Murray Faulkner as the client of a real estate agent to Rev. David McKane discussing his wishes for his funeral, the dining room is the setting for family breakfasts and lunches, homework and business deals, under-aged drinking and inter-class flirtation. Motives, pretensions and weaknesses are exposed through a clear yet sympathetic lens.
As I look back on it now, I am amazed at how it was all pulled together in such a short time. Three or four one hour rehearsals offstage and three more on stage. And then it was the real thing.

In response to our emails and distribution of flyers, nearly 600 of our family, friends and colleagues came out to watch us strut our stuff on Thursday evening. The publicity provided by local media certainly helped as well to get them there. 

What a difference it made having a live audience, a very live audience indeed! They cheered and applauded; they laughed in all the right places and a few we didn’t know were funny. We flubbed hardly any lines at all, and when we did, they didn’t notice, or pretended not to. We got a standing ovation.

Councillors Sandy White and Harold Usher as boisterous children at a birthday party, Joni Baechler as the handwringing, clinging wife suddenly turned emergency measures coordinator, artist Kevin Bice as a carpenter being hit on by a divorcee (Daphne Bice), CBC broadcaster Kerry McKee as a geeky teenager looking for acceptance and the better things in life, former leftie alderman Tom Siess as an autocratic patriarch- the audience loved it.

The scene I was in involved a self-made crotchety grandfather (businessman Larry Kinlin) who is being tapped by his grandson (architect McMichael Ruth) for money for a fancy boarding school. My own part was that of the long suffering housekeeper/maid. From public service to domestic service. But in the words of grandpa, “Maybe that’s a good thing.”

In all, there were 40 of us in the 15 scenes. But the final scene brought on some unrehearsed newcomers. 

Louise Fagan was the modern day hostess of a dinner party with the mayor and MPP’s Khalil Ramal and Deb Matthews as guests . Unfortunately, MP’s Ed Holder and Irene Mathyssen, who had planned to come, were detained in Ottawa. 

Don’t you just hate it when dinner guests cancel at the last minute? Right after you have worked out all the details of the place settings and the place cards?

But our hostess was up to the challenge. Charming and welcoming, she greeted all with open arms, of which the mayor took full advantage.

When the greetings were complete, Joe examined the table and asked, “Why are we serving this cheap Italian wine?” to which, without missing a beat, Louise responded, “There wasn’t enough money in the budget!”

That brought down the house.

It was a wonderful experience thanks to the good humour and patience and amazing direction of Susan Ferley and the assistance and guidance of the Grand Theatre staff and volunteers.

What made it wonderful was that, to paraphrase Orlando Zamprogna, it brought people from all over London and from many different walks of life together, in a cooperative endeavour. It’s not an experience that you are likely to get in your workplace or in your own social circle. 

And, as Susan Ferley pointed out, a lot of people who are leaders in their own fields learned to take direction. That too can be a good thing.
Photograph by Joe Samuels, for and with the permission of The Grand Theatre

The Cast (in order of appearance): Colin Botten, Murray Faulkner, Erin Rankin Nash, Glenn Jones, Britta Winther, Denise Brown, Tom Siess, Allison Graham, Rick Stranges, Betty Duffield, Kadie Ward, Bret Downe, Sabrina Pierson, Lynn Davis, David Southern, Heather Brandt, Paul Loreto, Ron Wexler, Kim Spriet, Orlando Zamprogna, Sandy White, Harold Usher, Larry Kinlin, MicMichael Ruth, Gina Barber, Kevin Bice, Daphne Bice, Lynne Cram, Kerry McKee, Pam Samuels, Nick Paparella, Joni Baechler, John Scram, Harry Joosten, Andrea Halwa, Anita Gilvesy, David McKane, Larry Myny, Louise Fagan, Susan Ferley, Joe Fontana, Deb Matthews, Khalil Ramal.


Harry Joosten said...

A great "synopsis" / "plot summary", Gina! ... a Grand experience we will all treasure

Sandy Levin said...

Yep, loads of fun Gina! Glad I could be in the audience.