BWW Review: DINNER WITH FRIENDS at Everyman Theatre
In a digital age of cell phones and social media, it is often difficult to get a glimpse of what couples may look like beneath the surface of a seemingly happy marriage. But when that veil is lifted for an opportunity to delve deep into true and honest intimacy no holds barred, you may be surprised to discover what it takes to find a partner--and the rules you are unwilling to break--while remaining true to yourself.
With these themes in mind, Everyman Theatre's Founder and Artistic Director Vincent M. Lancisi recently exposed Baltimore theatergoers to the storytelling genius of Playwright Donald Margulies in their rendition of Dinner with Friends. Armed with an intelligent script that explores the nuances of romance and friendship, Everyman hit its mark of seeking connection through emotional storytelling in a way that left the audience pondering their own relationships.
Walking into the theatre, Donald Eastman's set design immediately brought you to modern suburbia, equipped with white cabinetry and light fixtures bound to make any young homemaker jealous. The opening scene that soon filled that space was reminiscent of a sitcom: Gabe (M. Scott McLean, Everyman debut) and Karen (Beth Hylton, Resident Company Member) are chatting back and forth about their recent trip to Italy. Their repartee is impressive and their timing perfect as they rave about a random pasta dish. Meanwhile, Beth (Megan Anderson, Resident Company Member) reacts with a series of hilarious (yet hidden) facial expressions that do not exactly align with the positive responses she is giving verbally over her shoulder. The atmosphere is light, even comical...until it suddenly takes a turn.
Anderson demonstrates her expert acting prowess as Beth suddenly discloses her marital issues and goes from smiling to hysterically crying in front of her friends. McLean and Hylton's reactions also appeared to be genuine, down to the not-so-appropriate commentary from Gabe that again was timed perfectly in order to infuse some needed humor into the suddenly somber mood. The fluidity, yet sharpness, of the emotional twists and turns brought on by the actors in this scene (and the others to come) were believably representative of what you'd expect of any vulnerable conversation.
Eastman's design brilliance was further revealed as the revolving stage literally moved onto the next scene, where audiences met Beth's estranged husband, Tom (Danny Gavigan, Resident Company Member). Though audiences were initially led to believe that Tom is at fault for the disintegration of the marriage, Gavigan's multi-faceted portrayal calls you to question who is really to blame. The way Gavigan worked with the text, coupled with his believable physicality and emotions, helped audiences further understand his point of view.
The timing throughout the play was simply spot-on: from the banter (or shouting) between the couples that demonstrated their professions as writers, artists, and lawyers (if you listened closely to the text), to the tension-filled silences that made audiences slightly uncomfortable but reflective, everything seemed to click and work. It was evident through their interactions that the four actors trusted their instincts and worked well with each other--not only were they captivating in their dialogue, but also were flawless with their individual acting choices as they worked within the foundation of Lancisi's commendable direction. What is also worth noting is these scenes happened mostly while eating food, which at first glance seems like such a simple concept, but is much more complicated in terms of logistics and timing.
As the story continued to unfold, additional questions may have come to mind for the voyeurs in the audience, such as: What is considered forgivable in a relationship? What tradeoffs need to be made for a marriage to work? What are reasonable expectations for a partnership? Through Margulies' brilliant writing, Vincent M. Lancisi's detailed direction, and the realistic portrayal of emotions through the four actors, audiences who came to see Dinner with Friends soon realized that you can really never know what happens behind the closed doors of couples. And more importantly, when you are deeply entangled with a couple going through troubled times, you don't realize their impact until you find your own relationship affected by the ripple effect of their baggage. At Everyman Theatre, Dinner with Friends laid expectations bare on the (supper) table that audiences didn't think mattered...until they were forced to reckon with them.
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane