Director Ellise Pruitt Mayor on ‘The Dining Room’ at Homewood Theatre

Ty Taylor and Camille Spratling in rehearsal for “The Dining Room.”

It has been more than five years since Ellise Pruitt Mayor has directed an adult show, thanks to two weddings (her daughter’s and her own) and a pandemic.

“I continued teaching theater at affordable housing senior communities, but I missed working in the theater,” she says.

She’s returning next week, directing A.R. Gurney’s “The Dining Room” as part of Homewood Theatre’s After Dark series. The play has performances Thursday, Feb. 29, through Sunday, March 3.

She approached Kyle Bass, executive director of Homewood Theatre, with the idea to mount Gurney’s play in which a relatively small cast plays multiple roles over multiple decades.

Gurney’s 1981play interested  Mayor, who admits to a little anxiety coming back to the theater not only post-pandemic but also after the death of Christophe Nicolet, her longtime creative partner.

“I needed a script with maximum flexibility that could weather potential Covid cases or exposures, with roles that could be taken over by other cast members in such situations,” the director says. “I’ve been familiar with Gurney’s play and thought it fit the bill. Also, the message of the play has more resonance now than at the time of its writing.”

Ellise Pruitt Mayor. (Photo/Beau Gustafson)

Bass agreed to “The Dining Room” as part of the theater’s After Dark series, which features plays that have content more adult in nature than the normal family-friendly fare the theater produces.

Gurney’s play holds up well more than four decades after it was first produced off-Broadway (starring a then-unknown William H. Macy), according to Mayor.

“The play consists of a series of 18 scenes whose only connection is that each takes place in a formal dining room,” she  says. “Scenes jump between time periods and people, but the setting remains the same – a traditional formal American dining room. Consequently, the actors inhabit 22 different characters, ranging in age from 8 to 80. If the audience doesn’t recognize the setting, they will certainly connect with the relationships and situations that unfold therein. Ultimately it is a play about connection.”

Mayor’s cast includes Camille Spratling, Krissy Warren, Stephen Mangina, Brad Riegel, Ty Taylor and Rita Polonius Cowell.

“They have all worked with my friend Christophe so understand the significance of this production for me,” Mayor says. “They are all people whom I look forward to having at a dining room table. That has worked out well, since our early rehearsal period took place around (Cowell’s) table before we were able to get into the theater.”

The production staff also includes Caroline Marx as stage manager, Patti Steelman as her assistant and Todd Hester on sound and lights.

“I’m hoping audiences will come away from this production having had some good laughs, maybe a good cry, and a greater understanding of themselves and those around them of different ages,” Mayor says. “I also hope they’ll plan to have a few more shared mealtimes, whether in a dining room or at a picnic, so long as they gather to break bread with their fellow humans.”

“The Dining Room,” at Homewood Theatre Feb. 29 through March 3.

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