The Familyhood of the Travelling Dining Table

by ADANNA CARTERStaff Writer

Photo by Leony Anne McKeown

Strap yourself in for a time traveling adventure to the 1850’s. Prepare for a journey that begins near the Great Depression and fluctuates towards the time traveling waves of today. “The Dining Room” is a  throwback to traditional times in which obedience, propriety, and respect for elders were the norm. The play centers around the dining room table, which symbolizes the crumbling traditions of family; of how prominent sitting together and being together was back then for families and how in the modern world this tradition has deteriorated and lost its significance. It’s the death of the dining room. The dining room table is a stable, fundamental, representation of the change in traditional families throughout generations of different characters that reference each other, but do so by different families and different scenarios.

One of the many scenarios starts with the father sitting at the dining room table reading his newspaper and eating his breakfast that his maid, Annie, has served him. The father has two kids who he reprimands constantly, enforcing proprietary and pure obedience. The kids ask if they can join their father for breakfast, in which he allows, instructing them not to be loud or too much of a nuisance. This scene illustrates the properness of that time and how strict the parents were and the high expectations they had for their children to behave in a certain docile way.

Another scenario takes place during the time of a war. This family is running low on money and one of the maids is leaving. This scene starts with the maid sitting at the dining room table polishing silverware. Mikey, one of the children of the house wants to know why she’s leaving. He asks if it has anything to do with him peeking at her in the bathroom, amongst other things, and promises to be cautious next time. The maid explains to him that it has nothing to do with any of those things, but the fact that she doesn’t want to do domestic work anymore. Mikey is extremely upset by this and asks her if she will marry the guy from church, have kids, if she will visit, and then yells that she won’t, rejecting her hug goodbye, and storming away. This scene illustrates the factors that cause struggles in a family and how these factors contribute to the crumbling of family traditions.

A couple of scenes later there was a scene with a flirtatious woman and the handyman. The woman was divorced and flirting excessively with the handyman. The handyman tells her that the dining room table has bad support and needs to be fixed. He observes the different problems with it and invites the divorced wife to take a look at them. She takes this as an advantage to be even more flirtatious and revealing. Ultimately, the two end up making a partnership to fix the table and end up having the hots for each other. The significance of this scene was explicitly recognized, but also very perplexing.

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Photo by Leony Anne McKeown

Christine Nolan is a senior advertising major with minors in theatre and English. She is also the actress that played the divorced flirtatious woman.

“That was just me seducing the handyman. We actually wonder if there’s actually anything wrong with the table and maybe if I’m making it up because I’m lonely, because my ex husband is obviously gone. It could absolutely mean that the support is bad and be this crumbling of the dining room and how it’s breaking down and it’s shaking. It’s about this whole foundation of this formal dining and these traditional values that have been passed down generation to generation but are now going out of style,” said Nolan.

A few scenes later, there’s a scene with Sarah and her friend. Sarah is the friend that sits with her family every night to eat at the dining room table, but expresses that there are bad memories that follow with sitting there. The friend is intrigued by this tradition because her family eats at the counter, not all together in a very proper and inclusive way. The significance of this scene is also explained by Nolan who plays the friend.

“The scene with the two girls is about how one girl and her family ate at the dining room table every night and my family and I we eat at the kitchen table or we eat at the kitchen counter, so it kind of shows the different classes and how this family dining room has developed.”

The next couple of scenes leads to a scenario of the WASP, the White Anglo Saxon Protestant. This scene is about Tony and his aunt Harriet. Tony is doing a project for anthropology on eating habits and he wants to take pictures of his aunt eating the way WASP people apparently eat. Aunt Harriet was fine with it at first explaining how they would prepare to eat and smiling for pictures, but then Tony explained that it was a project about the WASPs of east northern U.S. This angers Aunt Harriet and she demands that Tony delete the pictures and starts putting away all the dishes.

“It’s during the time where the WASP are this idea of a very high class society and need finger bowls to cleanse themselves. They’re so high class that they need everything to be so perfect and they have all the nice silverware out for every meal they possibly can. They basically think they’re the best of the best sort of thing. It’s a negative term where you’re like really, really, really rich while the rest of us are poor and aunt Harriet was upset because to her it’s like basically you’re making fun of what I [the character] grew up on,” senior Carlos Perez said.

The very last scene is about a family being all together for the last dinner together. The family is smiling, greeting each other, and sitting down to feast. Nolan explains that this ultimate scene covers the changing values in traditions.

“My monologue in the end is kind of talking about the silver and the importance of silver, and the importance of this China, the importance of finger bowls, and how I miss that, and I’m losing my maid and like how am I supposed to throw parties? This is suppose to be the last formal party in our dining room because they’re outdated now. People eat in the kitchen and when people come over you’re swarmed around the counter.”

Overall this was a play about the time lapse of the dining room and the change in traditional values. In today’s generation people no longer eat at a dining room table, the significance of this tradition has faded away, people eat wherever they want; in bed, at a counter, in front of the TV, or on the couch. The dining room table is outdated now. The play depicts this fading traditional values in the different families and scenarios that are shown, the only thing that’s centered is the dining room table and the only character that remains present in all of the scenes is the maid, who’s the maid at the beginning and a retiring maid at the end.

This play was fascinating, a true journey to the past, and a wake up call on fading traditions. The actors did a wonderful job playing eight different characters and taking the audience on an expedition through reality.