By: David Sheward
How ironic that this revival of Donald Margulies’s Dinner With Friends opened the day before Valentine’s Day, sin
ce it pulls back the veneer of romantic love to reveal the sometimes twisted true nature of marriage. Friendship comes in for a harsh examination, as well, when two couples are forced to re-evaluate their unions and their relationships with each other.
Director Pam McKinnon has gone down this path in somewhat more explicit terms with her staging of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? There, Edward Albee’s George and Martha conducted their living-room war with live ammunition. The two pairs in Margulies’s play are subtler in their exchanges-less explosive combat but just as moving.
While visiting with her best friends Gabe and Karen, Beth reveals that her husband Tom is leaving her for another woman. The hosts automatically side with Karen as the victim, but all is not as it seems. Tom makes his case that Karen has been cold and withholding and their marriage was suffocating him. Then, in a flashback to their first meeting when Gabe and Karen introduced them during a weekend on Martha’s Vineyard, we learn Tom and Beth were incompatible from the beginning. As Beth and Tom seem to be blossoming after their divorce, Gabe and Karen question their own marriage and slowly drift apart from their formerly close friends.
Nothing as dramatic as the deadly one-upmanship games of Virginia Woolf occurs here. Dinner With Friends chronicles the everyday changes people go through and the disappointments and compromises entailed in most friendships and marriages. McKinnon keeps the temperature low, making the small cracks in the unions all the more heartbreaking.
The four-person cast perfectly balances Margulies’s funnier and heavier moments. Heather Burns captures Beth’s neediness, and Darren Pettie has Tom’s frustration down pat. Marin Hinkle comically limns Karen’s self-righteousness without turning her into a shrew. As Gabe, Jeremy Shamos has the most difficult assignment. This suppressed guy is able to articulate his emotions about food and cooking, but when it comes to feelings about his wife, he clams up. So the actor has to convey a lot between the lines. Shamos delivers Gabe’s repressed reactions to the chaos around him with underplayed skill and spot-on comic timing.
With Allen Moyer’s tasteful, suggestive sets, Jane Cox’s evocative lighting, and Ilona Somogyi’s character-defining costumes, this Dinner is a complex meal worth sampling.
Feb. 13-April 13. Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 W. 46th St., NYC. Tue 7:30pm, Wed 2pm & 7:30pm, Thu-Fri 7:30pm, Sat 2pm & 7:30pm, Sun 2pm. Running time 2 hours, including intermission. $82. (212) 719-1300. www.roundabout.org