About the 'The Dining Room'

A Full Length Play by A.R. Gurney

A Dining Room setting
Predictably, this is the setting for the play "The Dining Room.". Sasha

The Dining Room is a two-act play consisting of 18 distinct scenes that utilizes theatrical conventions such as pantomime, non-linear timelines, double (triple, quadruple +) casting, and minimal costumes and set. Playwright A.R. Gurney wants to create a feeling of a dining room "existing in a void." Whatever events happened before or happen after a particular scene do not matter. Focus should remain entirely on the characters and events as they are in that particular moment in that particular time in their particular dining room.

Time is a fluid concept in The Dining Room. One scene often begins before the previous scene has ended. This type of seamless scene change is a convention that Gurney uses in many of his plays. In this play, these scene changes enhance the feeling of action happening in a void independent of the scenes before and after.

The format of The Dining Room provides strong opportunities for actors and directors to present a variety of well-developed characters and to experiment with how different tactics and intentions can influence a scene. It is a strong choice for directing students looking for directing scenes. It is also a strong choice for acting students in need of scenes for class.


Throughout the course of a day, the audience witnesses various scenes involving characters from different eras of the twentieth century. There is an upper class family during the Depression, a brother and sister in modern times dividing up a parent’s possessions, girls in search of liquor and pot, a nephew doing research for his college paper, and many more. No two scenes are the same and only one character appears more than once.

Each scene includes an element of wealth and grandeur; often a maid (or two) is present and a cook is mentioned. Manners and deportment as well as public image are big concerns for most of the characters in each scene, no matter the era in which the scene takes place. Adultery, vanishing customs, the treatment of domestic help, homosexuality, Alzheimer's, sex, drugs, women's education, and family values are all subjects discussed and acted out in a home's dining room.

Production Details

  • Setting: A dining room
  • Time: Various times throughout the day during many different eras of the 20th century.
  • Cast Size: This play can accommodate as few as 6 actors who double in roles, but there are a total of 57 speaking roles.
  • Male Characters: 3
  • Female Characters: 3
Playwright A.R. Gurney advises theaters producing The Dining Room to cast people of many different ethnicities and ages.

Production Notes

Set. The entire play takes place upon one stationary set with two entrances and exits upstage: one to an unseen kitchen and the other to an unseen hallway that leads to the rest of the house. A table and chairs are in evidence but windows should only be suggested with lighting and walls suggested by extra dining room chairs lining the perimeter of the dining room. Lighting begins as early morning sunlight and progresses throughout the "day" until dark when candles are used to light the final dinner party of the play.

Props. There is a long and involved prop list for this play. A full list can be found in the script offered by Dramatists Play Service, Inc. However, A.R. Gurney specifically states, "The thing to remember is that this is not a play about dishes, or food, or costume changes, but rather a play about people in a dining room."

Characters, Scene by Scene


  • Agent, Client - The Client is in the market for temporary housing due to a new job placement. The client falls in love with the dining room but does not feel the house is affordable.
  • Arthur, Sally - These siblings have recently moved their mother out of her large house and to a new smaller house in Florida. They are now tasked with dividing up the leftover possessions between themselves.
  • Annie, Father, Mother, Girl, Boy - This family and their maid, Annie, discuss politics and their daily life over breakfast during the Great Depression. (See this scene and the previous two here.)
  • Ellie, Howard - Ellie moves her typewriter onto the dining room table so she can finish work on her master's degree. Howard is concerned about the damage she might cause the old family table.
  • Carolyn, Grace - This mother and daughter pair argue over the direction the daughter, Carolyn, wants to take her life. Grace wants her daughter to follow in her footsteps with the Junior Assembly and Carolyn prefers the theater.
  • Michael, Aggie - Michael is a little boy who loves his maid, Aggie. He tries to convince Aggie not to leave his family for other better paying work. (See this scene and the previous two here.)
  • Buyer/Psychiatrist, Architect - The Architect wants to bust down the walls of the Buyer's new house for his Psychiatrist office. The Architect believes dining rooms are outdated.
  • Peggy, Ted, and children: Brewster, Billy, Sandra, Winkie - Peggy and Ted discuss their feelings for each other and what an affair might do to both their marriages. The scene takes place during Peggy's daughter's birthday party. (See this scene and the previous one here.)
  • Nick, Grandfather, Dora - Nick has come to ask his grandfather for tuition money. (See this scene and the continuation of the one above here.)
  • Paul, Margery - Paul has come to fix Margery's table. (See this scene and the completion of the one above here.)
  • Nancy, Stuart, Old Lady, Ben, Beth, Fred - Three sons try to share Thanksgiving with their old mother who has severe Alzheimer's disease. (This scene begins within the video link above and concludes in this link.)


Dramatists Play Service, Inc. holds the production rights for The Dining Room.

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Your Citation
Flynn, Rosalind. "About the 'The Dining Room'." ThoughtCo, Nov. 18, 2020, thoughtco.com/the-dining-room-4081192. Flynn, Rosalind. (2020, November 18). About the 'The Dining Room'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-dining-room-4081192 Flynn, Rosalind. "About the 'The Dining Room'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-dining-room-4081192 (accessed March 22, 2023).