"Dinner with Friends"
Westport Country Playhouse, Westport
“Dinner with Friends” is a mid-life crisis tale—a tale of two couples who navigate “through the maelstrom” (as playwright Donald Margulies puts it). One couple survives the difficult journey, the other does not.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is now on stage at the Westport Country Playhouse, and the production is right in every sense—in casting, direction, design. For those of us who have seen this 1998 drama many times, this particular production is top of the heap.
Director David Kennedy offers an impeccable cast, with Jenna Stern and Steven Skybell as Karen and Gabe, the pair who are successful food writers. David Aaron Baker and Mary Bacon play their close friends Tom and Beth. Fine, human, believable performances all around. Perhaps because Baker is cast as something of a villain, his performance proves particularly intriguing. One cannot let go of him and is involved with him every moment he is on stage.
Margulies, brilliant playwright that he is, plunges right into the story. There is no long boring expository first act—nor a single wasted word. Gabe and Karen, having just returned from an exciting Italian trip, are extolling their experience, as they heap food on Beth’s plate. As Beth sits quietly through the chatter, she suddenly bursts into tears. Tom has left her. Thus the drama gathers steam, as Tom’s departure sends shock waves through the other marriage. Beth and Tom each develop ecstatic new relationships, so they say. But, strangely, Karen and Gabe feel put upon and take these developments as personal affronts.
Though Margulies explores the many nuances and subtleties in human behavior, his pace never falters, and director Kennedy is equal to the task. Despite a series of short scenes, unfolding in several Connecticut and Martha’s Vineyard locations, the tempo never lets up. Lee Savage’s charming set design allows for quick changes, as each set glides on and off stage. All other design aspects are right on target—with Fitz Patton’s original music and sound, Matthew Richards’ lighting, and Emily Rebholz’s costumes.
Why this emphasis on mid-life? Perhaps because Margulies himself (as well as friends of his) have experienced these years. In these modern times couples have high expectations of marriage, as they juggle homes, careers, children, relationships. It is a subject which strikes home for us all, a subject well worth exploring.
June 10, 2010