I find that upon the advent of its first New York revival, what I have to say about this deserving Pulitzer Prize play has not changed at all since I reviewed its off Broadway debut in 1999, except for certain production particulars. So with your indulgence, a little recycling, with updates:
It’s probably some variation of one Worst Nightmare or another. There you are, playing host to one of your best friends, who happens to be married to one of your other best friends…and suddenly you find out she and he are getting divorced.
That, indeed, is where Donald Margulies’ play Dinner With Friends begins, as Gabe (Jeremy Shamos) and Karen (Marin Hinkle) sort out their reactions as Beth (Heather Burns) breaks down in their kitchen and blurts out the news that her husband is leaving her for another woman, just before dessert. Later that evening, Beth’s husband Tom (Darren Pettie) returns home from a business trip, learns about what happened at dinner and freaks: The plan had been to tell their friends together, but now he fears all the sympathy has gone to “her side.”
I’m loathe to describe too much of the rest of the play, because it’s freshly enough conceived to have its surprises honored. Suffice to say that when it threatens to be schematic and predictable, it is anything but; and what would seem to be a light comedy about friendship and shifting loyalties, becomes instead a surprisingly touching rumination about the changes that come with age: the changes redefining relationships, the changes within relationships, the impact new relationships have on old, and the balances and affections that shift unexpectedly, just because, despite our reluctance to want to accept it, life goes on.
Under the confidently unobtrusive direction of Pam MacKinnon, the cast could hardly be bettered, not only in the playing, but in the casting, the conjoining of persona and role: Marin Hinkle as the severe conservative wife, resenting the infidelity of her friend’s husband in some ways more than the friend herself; Jeremy Shamos as the sweet, faithful husband, who finds the dissolution of the best-friend marriage too frightening to contemplate except through a kind of bewildered abstraction from it; Heather Burns as the newly-abandoned wife, funny, scattered, desperate and angry, often in alternating breaths; and finally Darren Pettie, as the husband who has left; a rogue so good at playing innocent that he has himself convinced, which is the magic behind his being able to convince others.
“Dinner With Friends” is a low-key sleeper, but there’s something very serious going on behind the understatement, and, like any consequential relationship—whether it be one that works or one that falls apart—it has the capacity to become a part of you and figure into the way you look at these things, forever after, amen.
Go to David Spencer's Profile
Return to Home Page