ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT BY IRV RIKON
PLAY REVIEW: PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING DINNER WITH FRIENDS AT PALM BEACH DRAMAWORKS
Donald Marguilies' Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Dinner with Friends, running now through April 17 at Palm Beach Dramaworks in downtown West Palm Beach, opens one winter morning in the kitchen of Karen and Gabe's Connecticut home. The young married couple are entertaining Beth, who's usually accompanied on such occasions by husband Tom. Tom's apparently out of town, but when Beth suddenly starts to cry and the hosts ask what's wrong, she says Tom has left her. So: What happens to two married couples who have been close friends for years when one marriage falls apart? That's the question raised by the playwright, who takes the position that close friends are like family, feeling the others' pain and even taking much of it upon themselves.
All of us at one time or another have had the unhappy experience of saying something we realize too late we shouldn't have said. Or, perhaps reversely, we recognize too late that someone's in trouble; there were warning signs, but we said nothing when we might have spoken out and possibly saved the day. There follows much soul-searching, so to say, which is the essence of this absorbing play.
In Scene Two of Act One, Tom returns to Beth: Accusations, recriminations and shouting follow. Who's to blame? How, when did things go wrong? Can anything be salvaged?
In Scene Three, Karen and Gabe discuss the dinner and the marriages, that of their friends and their own. A bit of guilt enters: They had introduced Tom, a lawyer, and Beth, an artist, to each other.
Scene One of Act Two takes place in Martha's Vineyard twelve and a half years earlier on the happy day when Tom and Beth first met.
Scene Two, occurring a few months after the events in Act One, finds Karen and Gabe still affected by their friends' break-up. But Karen blames everything on Tom, and she wants nothing to do with him. Gabe somewhat weakly defends Tom.
Scene Three brings Tom and Gabe together iin a Manhattan bar. Tom, surprisingly, has a new love. He's looking forward to getting married. (Will he be repeating the mistakes of the past?) By contrast, Gabe reports that Karen is having "hot flashes". Love-making isn't quite what it used to be.
One more scene follows, but I won't give away the ending.
The play is directed flawlessly by J. Barry Lewis and acted the same way by Jim Ballard, Eric Martin Brown, Erin Joy Schmidt and Sarah Grace Wilson. The players were so good that just a few minutes into the work I almost forgot they were acting and not the real thing!
Palm Beach Dramaworks promotes itself with the slogan "Theatre To Think About". I liked this play a lot because it caused me to do just what the slogan says. But when I thought, I felt truly sorry for these people. They're lost and groping for the way ahead. Young, in their late '40s, upper-middle class, respectable, they outwardly live "The American Dream". Yet here they are, inwardly terribly lost. And I wondered, What will they be like when they're retired senior citizens? What will they be like?
You won't leave the theater laughing and singing when you see this play. But you should see it. You're liable to remember it for a long time to come. For tickets and additional information, telephone 514-4042 or online: www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.