"Dinner with Friends" at the John Waldron Arts Center is a finely realized, thought provoking piece of involving theatre. Donald Margulies Pulitzer Prize winner is built around the story of what happens when the unexamined harmony, the papered over "irreconcilable differences," of two close couples is shattered by a husband's leaving.
The play opens at an elegant little dinner. The hosts, Gabe, Richard Perez, and Karen, Francesca Sobrer, are prattling on about a recent Italian trip, cooking and food. Gabe and Karen are the sort of couple who, despite occasional contradictions, effortlessly complete one another's sentences. There guest, Danielle Bruce as Beth breaks down in tears. She tells them that her husband, Tom, Lee Parker wants a divorce. Beth tells them
that Tom violently abused her and is having an affair. Gabe and Karen are both shocked, but they react differently. Karen immediately leaps to Beth's defense, talks energetically and supportively. Gabe sits mute, stunned.
The second scene of "Dinner with Friends" is in Beth and Tom's bedroom later that evening. Tom's flight has been canceled and although they've been sleeping apart he comes in and they talk. Tom is a lawyer and he's angry that Beth told Gabe and Karen about the situation before he could. Phrases like "prejudiced my case" and "injured party" are part of his dialog. He's furious, accusing Beth of never listening, of not respecting and even of castrating him. The scene builds toward what looks like physical violence and then quite shockingly into passion. In a later conversation with Gabe, Tom tells him to "never underrate rage as an aphrodisiac."
Saturday night's full-house audience at the Waldron reacted enthusiastically to the virtuoso performances of the production's quartet of actors, directed by Bruce Burgun. There was applause after most of the scenes and a standing ovation for the final bows.
The classy, but simple set design and projections were by Steve Krahnke. There's no costume credit, but everyone looked good in what they wore. The sound design and well made music choices between scenes was by Ashley Williams.
What I've said about "Dinner with Friends" might be a description of a pretty grim evening, but it isn't. Although this is definitely a thought provoking show, it's also lively, funny, totally engaging and persistently interesting. If you're the sort of theatre goer who likes to take something away from a show, who likes to have something to talk over after, this is definitely for you.
"Dinner with Friends" plays this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the John Waldron Arts Center.
You can hear an interview with cast members Francesca Sobrer and Danielle Bruce on our Arts Interviews page .