Marriage on Stage
Dinner with Friends offers an intimate view of two marriages and four friendships, examining the loyalties, fears, passions, and habits that keep couples and friends together. Marriage is a popular onstage subject, the backbone for many of the last century's most iconic plays. Domestic drama as we know it today may be traced back to Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play A Doll's House. The play, which follows an unequal and eventually unsustainable marriage, was a radical critique of 19th-century marriage norms and set the stage for the realistic plays (many of them domestic) of the 20th century. Below are a few examples of notable marriage-centric plays from the last hundred years. Whether funny or heartbreaking, they are inherently, undoubtedly dramatic.
1930: Private Lives by Noël Coward
Five years after their divorce, Elyot and Amanda have moved on and married new partners. When the play begins, both couples are on honeymoon. They quickly realize they are staying in the same hotel-in rooms with an adjoining terrace. They rekindle their romance but soon fall into old patterns.
A middle-aged couple, George and Martha, come home drunk after a university faculty party. A younger couple, Nick and Honey, stop by for a late drink, and the night dissolves as George and Martha viciously argue, using their new acquaintances as weapons in their fight.
Corie and Paul Bratter have just gotten married and are moving in together for the first time. The comedy traces the first days in their new apartment as they renegotiate the balance of their relationship in suddenly close quarters.
In reverse-chronological order, the play follows the marriage of Emma and Robert and the long affair between Emma and Robert's friend, Jerry. Though Robert and Emma have spoken of the infidelity, Emma lets Jerry believe the affair is a secret. Their relationship continues for years, with Emma deceiving her lover even as he believes he is deceiving her husband.
Life imitates art: Henry has just written a play about the breakup of a marriage that features his wife, Charlotte, as the leading actress. Meanwhile, in real life, Henry is having an affair with their mutual friend Annie, who is also married. When word gets out, Charlotte and Henry divorce, and Annie and Henry get married. Two years later, pettiness and infidelity have begun to plague Annie and Henry's relationship, and they must decide if their history of failed marriage will repeat itself.
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