Theater Review: Dinner with Friends

Dinner with Friends

at Road Less Traveled Theater

by Anthony Chase

Under the direction of Katie Mallinson, the Road Less Traveled production of Donald Margulies Pulitzer Prize winning play is sheer theatrical pleasure. The acting is flawless, with Kelly Meg Brennan, Dave Hayes, Lisa Vitrano, and Phil Farugia playing longtime friends at a crossroads in their lives and relationship.

As the play begins, Gabe and Karen (Hayes and Brennan) are entertaining Beth at one of their famously exquisite dinner parties. The hosts seem to have the perfect life, imbued with sophisticated friends and lofty pursuits. Something seems to be worrying Beth, whose husband, Tom, we are told, has had to go to Washington – again – thus his absence. Before the evening is over, Beth, emotionally at her wits end, will drop a bomb.  Tom is in love with another woman – a stewardess she thinks — and their marriage is over.

This revelation sets a deliciously engaging play in motion.

Each character reacts to this reordering of the lives the two couples have shared individually.  Gabe withdraws into silence; Karen into militant disapproval.

When, in scene two, Tom learns that Beth has shared the news in his absence, he is livid, convinced (correctly) that he has been branded the villain. The two are a model of acrimony and dysfunction, and yet, the scene ends with them having sex. Is either truly destroyed by this change in their relationship?

The play invites us to consider how all relationships necessarily evolve over time, and of the impossibility of truly knowing what is going on between two people.

In the second act, Margulies takes us back to the moment when Gabe and Karen introduced Tom and Beth, thereby allowing us to trace back the seeds of discord. In subsequent scenes between the two women and the two men, we see how resentment and maybe some very unhealthy jealously has always lurked beneath the surface of Beth’s feelings for Karen.  We see how Gabe and Tom have always had some fundamental differences in values.

The actors navigate this journey beautifully.  The audience is engaged at every moment.

Dyan Burlingame provides another handsome set, skillfully lit by John Rickus. Karen Albarella’s costumes successfully communicate character and set us backward in time.

One tiny quibble is the pacing of the transitions between scenes, which were untidy and long, especially in the final moment of the play, before the curtain call.  In a production as divine as this, I would have liked to see every gesture realized.