By Donald Margulies
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
With Matthew Arkin, Lisa Emery, Kevin Kilner, Julie White
Variety Arts Theatre /110 3rd Avenue at 13th Street / (212) 239-6200

Reviewed by David Spencer

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 (Matthew Arkin) and Karen (Lisa Emery) sort out their reactions as Beth (Julie White) 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 (Kevin Kilner) 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 sympath 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 Daniel Sullivan, the cast could hardly be bettered, not only in the playing, but in the casting, the conjoining of persona and role: Lisa Emery as the severe conservative wife, resenting the infidelity of her friend’s husband in some ways more than the friend herself; Matthew Arkin 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; Julie White as the newly-abandoned wife, funny, scattered, desperate and angry, often in alternating breaths; and finally–

–Kevin Kilner, as the husband who has left. Though his onstage colleagues are every bit his equal, audience members who only know Mr. Kilner as a teevee leading man (the first season of "Earth: Final Conflict") may find him the biggest revelation: who would have suspected he had such a flair for light comedy?

"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. And maybe I’m uniquely able to tell you that right now…having only yesterday gotten some news from a close friend…

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