BWW Review: Brilliant Writing, Directing, and Acting Enhance the Pulitzer Prize-Winning DINNER WITH FRIENDS at Little Fish Theatre
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play DINNER WITH FRIENDS, written by Guggenheim Fellowship recipient Donald Margulies, examines the complexities of a marriage and the friendships that are affected by its breakup. Playwright Margulies admits he wrote Dinner "to reflect observations I was having at that time in my life. All around us, relationships are always changing, marriages are breaking up. It's those notions of impermanence, the yearning for something else, that I'm tapping into in Dinner."
The current production of DINNER WITH FRIENDS, directed by Mark Piatelli at Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro, has the audience up close and personal to the cast, so much so you may feel like a fly on the wall witnessing conversations not meant to be heard by strangers. In fact, Margulies' overall "slice of life" writing will no doubt pull you in, whether or not you have been through a marriage break-up or have known friends who have gone through the process with you as their shoulder to cry on. Ultimately, the value of true friendship can prove to be even more important than family.Director Piatelli notes, "This is a play about two couples who make a happy foursome. When one marriage dissolves in divorce, the ripple effects test the bonds of friendship." He adds, "This fun and poignant chamber piece raises questions about life choices, commitment, integrity, longevity, and how hidden desires can wreak havoc on the status quo."
In Margulies' Pulitzer Prize winning play, Gabe and Karen (Patrick Vest and Christina Morrell) are a happily married middle-aged couple who have been friends with Tom and Beth (Doug Mattingly and Renee O'Connor), another married couple, for many years. In fact, it was Gabe and Karen who introduced their friends to each other. But while Tom is away on business, Beth tearfully reveals to Gabe and Karen that she is getting a divorce from Tom, who has been unfaithful. Beth is a talented artist who seems to have no confidence in her own work, while the charming but brash Tom proves to be too self-centered to really think about anyone's needs but his own.
When Tom returns and discovers that Beth has told their friends about the divorce, he feels he must present his own side of the story. Using flashbacks as an entertaining and revealing device, we see both couples at different ages and stages of their lives, all of which lead up to the fact that both Tom and Beth have been cheating on each other. All four actors go back-and-forth in time seamlessly thanks to Marlee Delia's time-appropriate costuming and the actors' ability to transform into their younger selves.Sound designer Doug Mattingly creates not only Gabe and Karen's offstage children interrupting important conversations between the two couples but also Tom and Beth's barking dog, Sarge. These touches of family realism add to the overall universal appeal of the play.
Just a note on the performance date changes: Director Piatelli and his cast were one week shy of tech week when our rainy February weather took out the electrical system at Little Fish Theatre, forcing his cast and production team to take an unscheduled hiatus for two months while the electrical system was replaced, along with installation of new and much-needed air conditioning and heating system. Thankfully the four Little Fish Theatre Company Members comprising the cast of this fascinating character study were able to keep their schedules clear as well as remembering their many lines. Each of them, as well as director Piatelli, profusely thanked their new Stage Manager Caroline Benzon who stepped up to the plate (literally as there is a lot of food involved in the production) when their original backstage wonder worker was lost just weeks prior to the new start date. Without her organization, this production could not have worked as seamlessly as it did!
DINNER WITH FRIENDS ran through May 28, 2017 with regular priced tickets at $27/$25 for seniors. Tickets for all shows can be purchased online at www.littlefishtheatre.org, or reserved by phone at 310-512-6030, or by text at 424-226-6030. Popular subscription packages of Anytime Tickets are available and can be used at any of Little Fish Theatre's regular season productions, at any time. Little Fish Theatre is located in San Pedro's Arts District at 777 S. Centre St., San Pedro, CA 90731.
Little Fish also presents a yearly Summer Season of Shakespeare by the Sea presented at locations throughout the area, with this year's productions including Macbeth and Taming of the Shrew. The full touring schedule can be found at www.littlefishtheatre.org.
Photos by Mickey Elliott