Two couples review their long-standing relationships in Dinner With Friends.
Thursday, March 6, 2003
Photo: When Friendship Hurts: John Affinito and Maggie Grant star in Dinner With Friends.
The 18th-century English author Horace Walpole wrote, "The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think." Donald Margulies'' Dinner With Friends, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 2000, is a little of both. The four-character examination of two married couples, and the effects that one couple''s divorce is having on all parties concerned, is a melancholy bit of work that also contains moments of overriding humor.
While the current production of Dinner by the Monterey Peninsula College drama department is creditable, it''s also missing the ingredients to make it a truly satisfying theater-going experience.
The play opens in Karen and Gabe''s Connecticut kitchen, where they are entertaining their longtime friend, Beth. As the meal chows through banal discussions of risotto and wine, we find that Beth''s husband, Tom, was unable to attend the food fest because he''s dumping her to be with a stewardess.
Dinner progresses, and we watch as Beth and Tom blossom while the seeds of doubt seem to sprout in the minds of Karen and Gabe. Not only does the latter couple begin to question their own marriage--mired in responsibilities and daily tedium--but they are forced to question how well they ever knew their old friends.
Most scenes in Dinner focus on two characters. That gives the play a great sense of intimacy. While this is a great strength to the play, it also places great demands on the director and cast.
For the play to work well, we need to feel as if we''re eavesdropping on intimate conversations between people who feel comfortable enough with each other to discuss uncomfortable subjects. Even awkward silences must feel natural. In this production, those moments are rare; too often, the line delivery and gestures feel studied. Body language is stiff. It almost feels as if the cast is uncomfortable with each other--if that''s the case, the problems may right themselves as the run progresses.
As Gabe and Karen, the couple trying to hold onto their marriage, Skip Kadish and Carol Daly have perhaps the best scene in this production. In the play''s waning moments, when they snuggle together in bed, wondering what''s become--to come--of their relationship, Kadish and Daly allow us to see the struggles going on inside their individual characters while they fight to keep their relationship whole.
In a scene in which she tells Karen about her new boyfriend, Maggie Grant''s Beth has her strongest moments. Like a butterfly wriggling from its cocoon, Grant shows us a character who previously felt constrained by expectations but who is now emerging to find a new life. Similarly, as Tom, John Affinito is at his best in a bar scene in which his character relates his new-found happiness to Gabe.
The scenic design by director Conrad Selvig is inventive, managing to create seven different scenes on the Cherry Center''s tiny stage, and as director he uses the set well, creating small scenes that offer his actors a chance to achieve moments of revealing intimacy.