The Dining Room
July 6-11, 2004
Directed by Lisa Nanni-Messegee
Scenic Design by Paul J. Hustoles
Costume Design by Esther Iverson
Lighting Design by Steve Smith

Two scenes intersect early on in The Dining Room, setting an example of how the play moves. Colin Wood (seated lower left) speaks with the family maid (Renée Roy) while Colin Woolston (standing left) measures the room with Trick Danneker.

Winky (Shawn Ashley Howland) makes a wish before blowing out the candles on her birthday cake. Guests include Trick Danneker (seated left), Colin Wood (seated right) and Erin J. Drevlow. Also in attendance is her mother, Renée Roy and Trick's father, Colin Woolston.

Mother (Shawn Ashley Howland) says good bye to her son (Colin Woolston), not realizing they are at her home. Attending are (left to right): Renée Roy, Colin Wood, Erin J. Drevlow and Trick Danneker.

When a family member is made fun of, Trick Danneker defends the family name. Looking on (left to right) are Erin J. Drevlow, Renée Roy and Colin Wood.

Harvey (Colin Wood, seated right) explains to his son Dick (Colin Woolston) how he wants he funeral to go. Setting the table are (left to right): Shawn Ashley Howland, Renée Roy and Erin J. Drevlow.

Photos by Mike Lagerquist

The Free Press—July 1st, 2004

Theatre alum Lisa Nanni directs 'The Dining Room'
Back to stage one

By Joe Tougas
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO—Lisa Nanni left Mankato and Minnesota State University the year she directed one of MSU's most successful plays, Tracers, a Vietnam drama that won the graduate student a fellowship at the Kennedy Center in 1998.

Six years later, she's back to direct a summer production at her alma mater. During the past six years, much has changed in her resumé, but not in the kind of plays to which she's attracted, although on the surface her two MSU shows are a disparate pair. While Tracers took place in Vietnam, The Dining Room is a bare-bones play, examining relationships that take place around dinner tables. Both have the kind of emotional intensity Nanni seeks in her work.

"I like a play with meat on it ... something you can sink your teeth into," Nanni said from her parents' home in Illinois, where she was visiting before arriving in Mankato for eight days of rehearsal that began June 28. SheÕs keeping A.R. Gurney's play intact as the study of affluent WASP families during the course of 50 years.

While some view the play as an account of the decline of such families, Nanni said she's not stressing social commentary with her approach. More interesting to her, she said, is the glimpses of characters—59 of them—who move in and out of the play's one set, the dining room. Nanni said she finds the play a bittersweet work, particularly in that so many of the characters' destinies are open-ended; they give a glimpse of themselves to the audience and depart, leaving room for speculation.

Six actors portray the many characters, and taking on the production required great confidence on the part of its director, who will have had only eight days in Mankato before opening night Tuesday.

"The reason I said yes to this is I have faith in the people there," she said, noting producer and theater department Chairman Paul Hustoles and costume designer Esther Iverson, who along with the crews had everything in place for the director's arrival. Her work since leaving has included living in Los Angeles and working as a segment producer for the Fox syndicated morning news and entertainment show "Good Day Live" as well as the HGTV show "Smart Solutions." She has also worked as an actress as well on Fox's "Courage." In L.A., she produced a segment a day for "Good Day Live," with days beginning at 5 a.m., shooting and coordinating features to submit or often go live.

"Essentially I was a TV director," she said. It was an experience like none other she had on previous stages or classrooms, which was precisely why she left for L.A. "In all of my schooling I didnÕt have a strong background in TV and film," she said. "I went out there to get my own education of it."

Today, she lives a calmer life in Virginia, where she works as an adjunct theater instructor at both George Mason University and Mary Washington College. She also is a freelance director, for which her television experience translates into some effective direction.

"A lot of that can translate onto the stage. YouÕre looking at composition," she said. "I think it makes me a better director."

The ultimate contribution of her TV days to her stage direction is that sheÕs become able to squeeze lots of work into a short period of time or, as she puts it:

"Talk less, do more."