Front Row Center

By Michael Warren

Dinner With Friends

By Donald Margulies

Directed by Brian Fuqua

front row

 

This play premiered off-Broadway in 1999, and it has received many awards and nominations, including a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2000. But to me it somehow lacked tension and I found it difficult to empathize with any of the characters. 

The play opens with a dinner party. “Gabe” and “Karen” are the hosts, and we soon discover that they are gourmet food lovers. They are very good cooks and they also enjoy each other’s company. They have invited their old friends “Tom” and “Beth” to tell them about their recent trip to Italy (which included much delicious wining and dining), and to reminisce about the good old days. It also turns out that they introduced Gabe’s friend Tom to Beth twelve years ago, and happily that resulted in their marriage. But the evening does not turn out well. Tom is out of town on business, and after dinner Beth breaks down and reveals that Tom is leaving her – he wants a divorce.

The rest of the play is an examination of marriage and of relationships. What makes a good marriage work? Are some people better off getting divorced? Damyn Young plays Gabe as a sympathetic and somewhat playful husband to his stronger wife. Kathy Cody is entirely believable as Karen, who blames Tom for the failure of his marriage to her friend Beth and is unwilling to forgive him. Gabe and Karen’s relationship works because they are good friends and they love each other. Meanwhile Tom and Beth have nothing in common, and they don’t even like each other. Ken Yakiwchuk plays Tom with savage intensity, as a man trapped with a woman who doesn’t appreciate him. All his life he has done what other people wanted—his father forced him to be a lawyer, and his wife wants him to support her lousy paintings. He is truly scary and we wonder if he will murder her. Divorce is surely safer for both of them. Meredith Miller cuts a sad figure as Beth, confused and misunderstood. She sees herself as a martyr who has given up a career as a painter, in order to be at home with their kids.

At the end of the play there is a sort of resolution after the divorce. Tom and Beth can finally be their true selves, and in fact they have both entered into new more satisfying relationships. And Beth now recognizes that she wasn’t really a talented painter—she was using her art as a hostage to the marriage. The pace was terrific, and the actors were all excellent in their roles. There was a lot of movement with readers walking around and changing places—much credit to director Brian Fuqua for this innovation.

This was an interesting play, though it wasn’t entirely satisfactory. I think there could have been more revelations of character and more surprises within the dialogue. Thanks to ART as I look forward to the next offering.

 

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