The Play

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 922

The Dining Room is a two-act play consisting of eighteen overlapping and unrelated vignettes, all staged in an elegant dining room. It traces, through the course of a day’s activities in the lives of various families, the struggles and conflicts within upper-middle-class American homes from the Depression to the 1980’s. The first act, composed of eleven vignettes, begins at early morning with a realtor showing the room to a prospective buyer. From this brief sketch the action segues quickly to the entrance of Arthur and Sally, adult brother and sister, who have inherited their mother’s house and, despite the fact that neither needs the dining room furniture, quarrel angrily over its possession. They exit, their conflict unresolved, as a wealthy father comes down to breakfast with his two children and lectures them about proper table manners and the current economic constraints others have to endure during the Depression. Next enters Ellie, a graduate student with typewriter and papers, who is stealthily working on her final term paper when her husband unexpectedly returns and reprimands her for “systematically mutilating the dining room table” by banging on the typewriter. Unable to concentrate, Ellie angrily leaves as a teenage girl enters and argues with her mother for trying to manipulate her into attending dancing school rather than, as the child prefers, going to the theater with her favorite aunt. After a brief sketch showing a young boy disturbed that his maid (and surrogate mother) is leaving to start a family of her own, an architect and his psychiatrist client enter and begin plans to remodel the dining room into an office and reception area. The young architect, who painfully recalls childhood memories of agonizing meals in a similar dining room, decides that “it’s time to get rid of this room” and, with considerable excitement and pantomime, describes ripping down walls and gutting the room. A birthday party follows, and as four children playfully eat cake and ice cream, the hostess, Peggy, stands aside with her best friend’s husband and plans their secret escape. As the children exit to play party games, a curmudge only grandfather is joined for lunch by one of his many grandchildren, who has come to borrow money. In the penultimate scene, Margery and a repairman examine the table and chairs for refurbishing and discover, much to Margery’s amazement, that the dining suite is not a priceless antique, as they had thought, but “just . . . American,” a “solid serviceable copy” of the original. The first act concludes with a poignant Thanksgiving dinner at midday. An elderly and senile woman, surrounded and serenaded by her three sons and daughters-in-law, repeatedly gets up from the table and, unable to recognize her family, tries to leave. The mother insists that she be allowed to go home and exits, and as the sons go after her, one of the women remarks with a shudder, “It could happen to us all.”

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While the first act encompasses action from morning to middle afternoon, the second act, with similar jumps in time, picks up the action at late afternoon and brings it to a conclusion at late evening. In the first vignette of act 2, Sarah brings home her high school friend, and, unchaperoned, they sip soft drinks, vodka, and gin at the table while Sarah recounts her unpleasant meals with her family. In the next sketch, a young college boy returns home unannounced and learns of his mother’s affair with a family friend when he catches her, scantily clad in a robe, entertaining her lover in the dining room. Next an Amherst student, Tony, photographs his aunt proudly displaying her collection of crystal, silver, and place settings and demonstrating the proper use of finger bowls. When he then explains that all his fuss and interest is for...

(The entire section contains 1820 words.)

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