Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dinner With Friends @ Laura Pels Theatre

It’s About You, Your Friends and How You Change
Food is a basic element of life.  We need it to survive.  We celebrate with it, comfort with it and entertain with it.  Being such a close companion of human connection, it is always refreshing to see food given proper stage time.  Immediately we are drawn into a familiar world.  They eat – I eat. She chops garlic – my father chops garlic.  She devours dessert while sobbing–my best friend knocks back a pint of Ben and Jerry’s every time she’s fired.  Playwright Donald Margulies understands this.  He knows just how much food to serve the audience to entice them while dishing some delicious life questions along the way in “Dinner with Friends”.

Ever since Karen and Gabe played matchmaker with their friends Beth and Tom, the two couples have been inseparable – going to the Vineyard every summer, raising their kids and enjoying countless dinners together.  But when one marriage unexpectedly crumbles, the couples' lives begin to veer in opposite directions.  Can these four friends move on to the next chapter without moving apart… or have they changed beyond recognition?

Marguiles writing is a wonderful canvas on which the actors, under the direction of Pam Mackinnon, can paint.  The cast has perfect chemistry and each gives a steady performance.  Marin Hinkle colors Karen with such a wonderful, natural presence.  From the way Karen embraces Gabe to the way she rests her hand on the opposite shoulder while thinking, Hinkle breathes palpable life into this character.  Karen’s lines could very easily be delivered bone dry or sopping with sarcasm, but Hinkle finds a delicate balance and delivers them effortlessly.  Heather Burns brushes the character of Beth with subtle yet defining energy.  She easily blends the crazy artist with the discontented wife.  Darren Pettie does a beautiful job of blurring the lines.  Tom is a character the audience could easily turn against but Pettie instills such charm and charisma that we feel like he is our own best friend.  Jeremy Shamos as Gabe is a standout. He gave Gabe a true resonating reliability, sadness, and comfort.

The scenic design by Allen Moyer at the top of Act II was particularly striking.  Set in a kitchen in Martha’s Vineyard with a view of the sunset – a backdrop which seemed to be a large watercolor painting – the audience was stunned with vibrant colors and textures, giving quite a contrast to the rest of the play.  Since this scene took place twelve and a half years prior to Act I, it was a beautiful and creative transition for the flashback.

Dinner with Friends is as simple and as complex as real life. There is no immediate mystery to solve, no prince rescuing a maiden in distress and no eleven o’clock number; but it will fill your plate with familiar characters, topics and emotions. And it will leave you hungry for answers.
Dinner with Friends opened February 13.

Review by Staci Morin
Photos by: Richard Perry

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