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A.R. Gurney’s ‘The Dining Room’ coming to Westfield

Hospital Foundation to host upcoming play in Eason Hall

January 30, 2014
Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Coming soon is A.R. Gurney's play, "The Dining Room," with Tim Newell, hosted by the Westfield Memorial Hospital Foundation. Tickets still are available for the 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, dinner/theatre evening at Eason Hall in Westfield by calling 793-2338.

Written by A.R. Gurney, the production is directed by Bob McClure, who is a foundation board member and long-time member of a group of players from Chautauqua Institution and surrounding area. In addition, "The Dining Room" also will be performed the next evening, Feb. 8 at 6 p.m., at Cappa Theater which is located in the Robert H. Jackson Center, 305 E. Fourth St. in Jamestown.

McClure describes the play which is set in the dining room of a typical well-to-do household, the place where the family assembled daily for breakfast and dinner and for any and all special occasions. The action is a mosaic of interrelated scenes-some funny, some touching, some rueful-which, taken together, create an in-depth portrait of a vanishing species: the upper-middle-class WASP. The actors change roles, personalities and ages with virtuoso skill as they portray a wide variety of characters, from little boys to stern grandfathers and from giggling teenage girls to Irish housemaids. Each vignette introduces a new set of people and events; a father lectures his son on grammar and politics; a boy returns from boarding school to discover his mother's infidelity; a senile grandmother doesn't recognize her own sons at Christmas dinner; a daughter, her marriage a shambles, pleads futilely to return home, etc.

Dovetailing swiftly and smoothly, the varied scenes coalesce, ultimately, into a theatrical experience of exceptional range, compassionate humor and abundant humanity.

Tagged The Chautauqua County Gurney Players, the six thespians are lead by Westfield native Tim Newell who recently revised his hugely popular one-person show, "Mr. Benny." He has received lavish praise for his performances with Shakespeare-in-Delaware-Park, having mastered roles such as Richard III, Iago, Claudius and Dogberry. As a young man in the mid-eighties, he attended Jamestown Community College, majoring in vocal music and performed in a number of musicals. Later he performed at the Lucille Ball Theater in "Peter Pan," "Li'l Abner" and "God's Favorite." Tim is an accomplished visual artist. His Abstract Expressionist paintings have been shown in galleries from San Juan to the Jamestown's James Prendergast and Westfield's Patterson Library. His star turn in "Mr. Benny" has enhanced his reputation as it has played in New York and several other cities, including, his upcoming appearance in February 2015 in Mr. Benny's hometown, Waukegan, Illinois!

Joining Newell will be five "regulars" who perform year-round. They include Don Kirsch, who resides in East Springfield, PA, and has played many different roles in his theater career. A few of his favorites are Otto Frank in "Diary of Anne Frank," Father Merwin in "The Exorcist" and Norman Thayer, Jr. in "On Golden Pond." He has performed in film, many commercial/advertising projects, and has done several musicals including "1776," "Hello Dolly," "Cabaret" and "Dream Girls."

Robert W. Plyler had his first stage appearance with a children's theater company at the age of six, playing Old King Cole. He studied piano, singing and pipe organ and attended Allegheny College, where he did theater and sang in three operas. He moved to Jamestown in 1971 to teach at Maple Grove High School, where he taught for 32 years. He also taught at Mercyhurst College in Erie and at JCC. Since 1976, he has been the arts critic for The Post-Journal and his column on the arts also appears in the Dunkirk OBSERVER.

Mary Lee Talbot of Chautauqua has directed plays and appeared in several productions of the Chautauqua Play Readers, including those she performs in this production. She has played such leading roles as Tracy Lord in "The Philadelphia Story," Rebecca Gibbs in "Our Town" and Liz Jones in Gurney's "The Snow Ball." An ordained Presbyterian minister, she works with two congregations in western New York.

A gardener of the highest order, Jane Stirniman has one of the most admired flower gardens in Chautauqua. A retired surgeon, she is a world-wide traveler and an accomplished actress, having appeared in this role with the Chautauqua Play Readers and in others in which her comedic talents almost always "bring down the house." She has a gorgeous white cat, Dinah, who loves the garden as much as Jane, albeit for different reasons.

Merle Szydlo speaks for himself. "A music major in high school and college meant I played in many pit bands, but always envied the actors on stage. I promised myself one day I would be up there, which happened when I took the role of Angel in the JCC production of 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.' I didn't indulge again until the Spoon River Project. I spent two summers in a hoop skirt reciting Edgar Lee Masters in a cemetery and loved it which is why I could not turn down this opportunity." Retired from a civil service career, Merle spends her off-stage hours volunteering at the Audubon Center & Sanctuary and lounging at home with her husband and three cats.

Director McClure has appeared in Chautauqua Theater Company's "The Laramie Project" and the premier of "Ghosts of Omaha" at Jamestown's Bunbury Theater. Bob coordinates the Chautauqua Play Readers, mounting eight semi-staged readings each year, including, over the years, four by A.R. Gurney.

Bob was a senior staff member at the National Education Association in Washington D.C., where he conceived and directed an influential national school improvement project. Gurney is one of his favorite playwrights because of the quality of the dialog, his humor and the way his stories connect to western New York audiences.

Playwright A.R. Gurney, less formally known as "Pete," is one of the most prolific and produced playwrights in America, according to McClure. "His work focuses primarily on the issues and realities of middle-class American life and has been produced on international theatre stages for more than 40 years."

After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from Williams College in 1952, Gurney joined the United States Navy during the Korean War, writing shows to entertain the military personnel. Following his discharge in 1955, he enrolled in the Yale School of Drama where he received his Master's degree in playwriting. Later he joined the faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge where he taught until 1987.

In 1958, Gurney wrote "Love in Buffalo," which was the first musical ever produced at Yale. His first play, "The David Show," was produced in New York in 1968. In 1970, "Scenes from American Life" received its world premiere at the Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo. During the 1970s, he wrote two novels and several plays, including "Children," which premiered in London, England in 1974.

His breakthrough success came in 1982 with "The Dining Room." Other award-winning plays include "The Middle Ages," "Richard Cory," "The Golden Age," "What I Did Last Summer," "The Wayside Motor Inn," "Sweet Sue," "The Perfect Party," "Another Antigone," "The Cocktail Hour," "Love Letters," "The Old Boy," "The Fourth Wall," "Later Life," "A Cheever Evening," "Sylvia," "Overtime," "Let's Do It" (a Cole Porter musical), "Labor Day," "Far East," "Darlene And The Guest Lecturer," and "Ancestral Voices."

Gurney is the recipient of many awards, notably a Drama Desk Award in 1971, a Rockefeller Award in 1977 and two Lucille Lortel Awards in 1989 and 1994. He and his wife, Molly, have four children and six grandchildren.



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