BWW Reviews: DINNER WITH FRIENDS Makes A Meal Out Of Subtext
Donald Margulies' 2000 Pulitzer winner, Dinner With Friends, is one of those plays that may seem a little thin on paper. Simply put, it's about how the split-up of one married couple makes another married couple, their best friends, consider the strength of their own relationship.
But plays are performed on stages, not paper, and with the right artists involved, the subtext underneath the guarded emotions and sophisticated barbs of the Connecticut quartet can be very affecting. Fortunately, the Roundabout Theatre Company's new production has the right artists involved.
Jeremy Shamos - who seems to be specializing in Pulitzer Prize winning plays as of late - and Marin Hinkle pair off as Gabe and Karen, a couple who tend to make an entertainment of how happily married they are. They share stories of their international travels as a well-oiled tag team while preparing a sumptuous meal featuring a surprising use for polenta. The kids (unseen) get treated to gourmet mac and cheese made from scratch.
Their guest for dinner at the start of the play is flying solo. Beth (Heather Burns) is half of the married pair they set up a dozen years ago while vacationing on Martha's Vineyard. She's an artist who doesn't like to suffer financially and her husband, Tom (Darren Pettie), is an admittedly self-centered lawyer who enjoys making money.
But before coffee can be served, Beth breaks down in tears and confesses that her marriage is over because Tom has fallen in love with an airline stewardess. Tom, who was supposed to be off on a business trip, returns home that night after his flight is cancelled and is horrified to find out that Beth spilled the beans without him being there.
They had agreed to tell them together so that no one is seen as the bad guy, but now, fearing that Beth has won their sympathy, Tom rushes to Gabe and Karen's place to give them his side of the story, including the fact that the woman he's seeing is a travel agent, not a stewardess.
Though their animosity has, at the very least, recharged the sexual spark between Beth and Tom (the lack of which being the reason he cheated in the first place), the breakup of their friends' marriage has led Gabe and Karen to question the value of their own. Their dreams of growing old as two inseparable couples dissolved, they now face the reality of having to connect to each other as a couple, instead of putting their happiness on display for others. (A quick exchange where they comment on the quality of the wine they're drinking during a serious conversation is both hilariously shallow and sadly telling.)
Director Pam MacKinnon and her sharp ensemble perfectly balance the tragic feelings of the characters with their comic obliviousness to how out of touch they are. It's a chilly play, but one that might trick you into being more emotional than it appears on the surface.
Allen Moyer's set offers slick, efficient renderings of their present day homes with sweet pastel memories in a Martha's Vineyard flashback.
When Dinner With Friends premiered in 1998, audiences recognized the characters as the upwardly mobile urban yuppies of the mid-1980s doing a bit of a suburban crash and burn. MacKinnon has fast-forwarded the action to the present, making the evening a look at what happened to the Friends and Seinfeld era urbanites who saw the original production.