We never really know what’s going on in the lives of our friends when we part and they go behind their own closed doors, or so we learn in the Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Dinner With Friends” by Donald Margulies, now at Capital Stage, under the direction of Peter Mohrmann.
Karen (Jamie Jones), Gabe (Eric Wheeler), Beth (Karyn Casl) and Tom (Kenneth S. Figeroid) have been friends forever. In fact Karen and Gabe introduced Beth and Tom and now they spend lots of time together, their children play together.
As the play starts, Karen and Gabe, who are food and wine connoisseurs have just returned from a fabulous tour of Italy and are gushing to Beth about their eating, drinking and other food experiences, totally oblivious to Beth’s obvious state of disinterest and agitation. Karyn Casl is brilliant in this section of the play, completely conveying a woman whose life seems to be falling apart, trying to hang on to her sanity and stay focused on her friends, though her brain is a million miles away. Her pain is palpable and only the self-absorbed Karen and Gabe are unable to see it.
(Food is, by the way, central to this play, as each scene takes place in or around a kitchen, and fine foods and wines play an integral part in each of the discussions. The mouth-watering description of the dessert in Scene 1, which actually momentarily sidetracks an argument in Scene 2, sent me to Google looking for a recipe when I returned home!)
Karen finally notices that Beth is out of sorts and pulls from her the news that Tom has been having an affair and has announced that he is leaving their marriage.
Through the following scenes, we see what happens when close friends divorce, and the effect it has on their friends. Can you be friend with both husband and wife? Who is really the injured party? Aren’t there two sides of every story? If Tom has been Gabe’s best friend and Beth has been Karen’s best friend, where does that leave Karen and Gabe?
Margulies beautifully allows development of the effect of the break-up on the other couple. Karen feels betrayed when Beth finds herself a boyfriend, feeling she is rushing too quickly into another relationship, almost adamant that Beth break it off with her new love interest. Is Karen jealous that Beth is feeling the glow of fresh love? Or is she upset that this is someone Beth found on her own, without Karen’s assistance?
When Tom meets Gabe for drinks and extols the praises of his new girlfriend, Gabe is discomfited because he felt that he and Tom were going to “grow old and fat together,” and now Tom is feeling healthy, getting fit, and keeping up with a younger love interest.
Beth’s and Tom’s ability to move on is almost more difficult on Gabe and Karen than the news of their breakup was.
There is no resolution, or even a message, in this play. It’s simply an entertaining character study that gives much food for thought as we watch the chemistry between the characters, and their effect on one another. Just when we think one character is the bad person for whatever reason, we suddenly see things from the other side and it forces us to reassess who may be to blame. In the end, nobody is to “blame.” It’s just what happens.
The actors are marvelous. Jones and Wheeler are very funny as a couple absorbed in their passions for food and secondarily for each other. They are comfortable together and can’t seem to understand the temptations that have led to the break-up of their friends’ marriage.
Casl has perhaps the meatier part in the second relationship, conveying her utter despair and then her giddy happiness as she shares news of her new love with her friend.
Figeroid nicely portrays the man who never quite grew up into a responsible adult and who is ready to let himself be remolded into a middle-aged “man toy” for a new woman. It is not impossible to see this as a short-term relationship, but he’s enjoying it for all it’s worth at the moment.
Set designer David Fulk manages to find a way to use every bit of the Capital Stage stage to get more than one scene set at a time and somehow have it all work beautifully. The moveable windows were a particularly effective touch.
“Dinner with Friends” is a funny, yet thought-provoking play, that will leave you wondering what really does go on with your best friends behind closed doors.
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