AR Gurney’s The Dining Room is a perfect showcase for Soulpepper, featuring six versatile actors from the company’s well-stocked stable playing more than 50 characters whose lives we see in snippets as they cross through the titular space. The company is one of the country’s most well-rounded, which is how this actor’s showpiece is able to glide along excellently despite the easily overlooked technical tasks involved (all those costume changes, table settings and period shifts must be a stage management nightmare but Darragh Parsons is on it- with lots of help from dressers Janet Pym and Natalie Swiercz- and executes flawlessly).
What’s most refreshing about this delightful and heartwarming production (which builds in momentum and wonderfully reaches its emotional peak just as the curtain falls) is that it brazenly avoids the predictable pitfall of classifying each performer into a type of role. Instead of just the ingénues, the youngest in the cast Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, to take just one example, plays a whole host of ages, including the oldest character in the play (the fan favourite grandmother who has decided it’s time to leave Thanksgiving dinner). That choice opens up all six performers (Lancaster, Sarah Wilson, Brenda Robins, Jeff Lillico, Derek Boyes and Diego Matamoros) to possibilities they never get to play and the effect is a universalization of the many stories that play out in the dining room. A warm, emotional, funny, impressive piece of theatre and easily one of the best this year so far.