Maddie Hendricks wanted to present a play without any technical frills.
To do that, she cast six students to play 52 characters and never changed the setting in Generic Theatre Company’s last performance of the season.
Hendricks, a sophomore majoring in dramatic literature, selected “The Dining Room” because she wanted to direct a play that focused on the acting. She shied away from what she called the sometimes “scary technical aspects” of theater, such as lighting and set changes.
“The Dining Room” comprises 18 separate vignettes and features 52 characters.
Hendricks, who has never before held a non-acting role in a student theater production, said she was apprehensive to submit a directing proposal at first, but was enthusiastic about what “The Dining Room” had to offer.
“I saw the show done eight years ago,” Hendricks said. “I thought it was one of the funniest plays I’d ever seen.”
“It’s all about WASPs,” she explained, referring to “white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants.” Hendricks said, “The typical WASP goes to the country club and has their sterling china and smiles at everything and doesn’t yell. There’s something very ’50s about it, even though some of the scenes take place in, like, the ’80s.”
The set, a full dining room getup, complete with a crystal chandelier and carved wooden tables and chairs, is the common thread throughout each scene.
“Every scene has characters with different ages, different personalities, different everything, but each one has something to do with the dining room, which is this very elegant, traditional dining room,” Hendricks said.
Assistant Director Elizabeth Taufield, a freshman, said the play is framed around “what a dining room means to you.” With alternating comedic and dramatic scenes, the actors get to explore a full range of characters.
Freshman Rachel Bell likes the versatility of her 10 roles.
“My first character’s like 50-something, and I go right from there to a 5-year-old,” she said. Bell – who has been enthusiastically auditioning for Generic shows since learning about the company at the the company’s Freshman Showcase – says her favorite role is Meg, a wife and mother whose marriage is falling apart as a result of her emerging homosexuality.
To freshman Nick Kelly, the constant role-changing, such as his transition from husband to little boy to grandfather, “can be tiring,” but the end result is a fun, dynamic atmosphere.
“What Maddie told us when we first started the whole process is that this is really like a ‘workout’ for an actor, because you play so many different characters in such a short time span that you really have to be very focused and very aware of who you’re playing at that moment,” senior Lorna Mulvaney, a theater major and previous executive producer at Generic, said.
The play has a sense of what Hendricks identifies as “preservation,” a need to connect with the past in the present, a theme embodied by the consistency of the setting. Each group of characters’ engagement with the dining room reflect both what changes with time and what remains the same.
“To me, ‘The Dining Room’ is like that feeling when you walk into your house during Christmas break, or at Thanksgiving,” Hendricks said. “It’s really about nostalgia.”