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University of Iowa News Release

Release: June 11, 2004

Gurney's 'The Dining Room' Opens Iowa Summer Rep 2004 June 24

"The Dining Room" will open "Unleashed: A Festival of Comedies by A.R. Gurney," Iowa Summer Rep 2004, at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 24 in Theatre A of the University of Iowa Theatre Building.

Additional performances by the UI's professional Actors Equity company will be -- 8 p.m. unless otherwise noted -- June 25, 26, 27 (2 & 8 p.m.), 29 and 30; and July 4 (2 p.m.), 7, 9, 10 and 11 (2 p.m.).

"The Dining Room," directed by Summer Rep veteran Mary Beth Easley, is a play of many times but only one place. Six actors -- William Watt, Mark Ulrich, Derek Degeyter, Rachel Lindhart, Kristy Hartsgrove and Lena Ajans -- portray more than 50 members of various well-to-do WASP households in one of the most important traditional gathering places of American domestic life.

"The real beauty of 'The Dining Room' is its structure," Easley says. "Scenes involving different characters and period of time are interwoven to create a feast for the eyes, the ears, the heart and the soul."

As the 18 vignettes -- by turns funny, touching, dramatic and sad -- flow seamlessly together, an ever-richer portrait of the American family emerges. A New York Post review put it, "hilarious and touching . . . as comic sketch crazily succeeds comic sketch a whole pattern of American life emerges."

Cincinnati critic Ann Mort wrote, "It's quirky, funny, sad . . . just the thing to lift the spirits."

"The Dining Room," which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, was a breakthrough success for Gurney, who wrote for the original 1981 production, "I soon found myself writing this strange play which kept wanting to take place in a dining room. . .

"This was the room where my parents used to give their sparkling dinner parties, the laughter from which I could hear echoing up the stairs long after I had shaken hands and been sent to bed. . . . Yet just as I used to squirm in my seat at the strictures of the dining room, so did my rebelliousness assert itself against these rules of drama."

Mary Beth Easley has been a frequent Iowa Summer Rep and University Theatres contributor. Her previous Iowa Summer Rep productions include the 2003 production of Tom Stoppard's "Travesties," the 2000 production of Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," the 1999 production of August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," the 1998 production of Alan Ayckbourn's "Bedroom Farce," and the 1997 production of Neil Simon's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor."

Other artistic contributors to the Iowa Summer Rep production of "The Dining Room" include scene designer Leonard Curtis, costume designer Renee M. Bell, lighting designer Bryon Winn and composer Michael S. Cash.

Gurney sometimes finds himself almost apologizing for the "turf" of his sardonic, humane and sweetly satirical comedies -- the WASPs that for generations were the "standard" Americans, but seem increasingly absorbed into the contemporary flair of ethnic and cultural diversity. "I am writing about a group that is saying goodbye," he says.

But Gurney is far from vanishing: He is one of the most prolific and produced playwrights in America. He's won a Drama Desk Award, a Rockefeller Award and two Lucille Lortel Awards, and he has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in drama. At this point, regional and community theater seasons hardly seem complete without a production of one of his scripts.

This spring two new plays by Gurney were playing simultaneously in New York City: "Mrs. Farnsworth," starring John Lithgow and Sigourney Weaver, and "Big Bill," starring John Michael Higgins, most famous for his roles in the films "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind."

In addition to "The Dining Room," Iowa Summer Rep will produce:
-- "Sylvia," the hit comedy in which the title character is a precocious talking dog, a role originated by Sarah Jessica Parker;
-- the warm-hearted World War II coming-of-age play "What I Did Last Summer"; and
-- a staged reading of Gurney's best-known and most widely-produced play, "Love Letters."

Again this season, Iowa Summer Rep evening performances will be accompanied by the popular "Dinner on the Patio" fare, with casual seating overlooking the Iowa River. Dinner reservations, which are strongly encouraged, can be made by calling 319-335-3105

Individual Summer Rep tickets are $20 ($10 for UI students and youth, and $15 for senior citizens). Tickets may be purchased in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available to the Theatre Building box office one hour before curtain time. Parking in the Theatre Building and Hancher lots is free.

Summer Rep subscriptions, which include tickets to all three main productions, are $48 ($24 for UI students and youth, and $36 for senior citizens). Series subscriptions will remain available until "The Dining Room" closes with its July 11 performance.

Hancher Auditorium summer box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to 319-353-2284. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website: .

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail: <>.

The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,

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