Dinner with Friends

  • Our critic's rating:
    February 1, 2014
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    Review by Tulis McCall

    In the revival of Dinner With Friends, Donald Margulies is doing his best to tiptoe around the chaos of marital plans that can engulf one relationship while leaving another untouched - or at least not destroyed. Sort of the way a tornado whips through a town, picking and choosing which properties will survive and which won’t. Indeed, this tornado seems as arbitrary when it picks Beth (Heather Burns) and Tom (Darren Pettie) as the ones who will be torn apart and leaves Gabe (Jeremy Shamos) and Karen (Marin Hinkle) to survive but not without damage.

    The play begins – after a long-winded explanation about an Italian cooking vacation that has nothing to do with the rest of the play – with Beth confessing to Gabe and Karen that Tom has left her. That Tom told her he was dying in their marriage and had found someone else. As the play progresses we discover that this is more a shock to Gabe and Karen than it is to Tom and Beth. This is a foursome that was supposed to “grow old and fat together,” and when Tom takes a dive off the bus it sticks a crowbar into the wheel-works.

    This is one of those universal occurrences that any of us could imagine, and have probably been through either as the couple breaking up or the sad witnesses left to re-examine and re-define our relationships with the parties involved. So it would seem an excellent choice for subject matter. In this production, however, Ms. McKinnon’s direction seems to be focused on speed rather than the depth of the emotional upheaval.

    Beth’s announcement is followed by a fight with Tom who feels betrayed that she told their best friends without him. This is prelude to frantic sex which I not only didn’t see coming, but I didn’t believe for a nanno second. Tom hi-tails it over to Gabe and Karen’s to tell “his side of the story,” and this proves to be a bad move all around. We are then whisked back in time to the day that Tom and Beth met – at Gabe and Karen’s house on the Vineyard. Then swoop forward to months after the breakup when Beth announces a new love interest to Karen, and Tom boasts of being a new man to Gabe. Both these conversations bring out the grief that Karen and Gabe are experiencing, and Beth and Tom are only baffled.

    In the final scene Karen and Gabe are side by side in bed wondering what life is all about. If your best friends are no longer your best friends because the choices they made resulted in the unexpected end of your relationship – if THAT can happen, what about everything else. These two finally see they have gotten lost to one another because the minutia of life has overtaken them. The breakup of their friends is more than a wakeup call – it is a May Day. What will happen now?

    We leave Karen and Gabe in that question. What we don’t have, however, is any attachment to the outcome. These two couples have no visible chemistry or connection to one another. Frankly, they are just some fairly well-off white people sitting around wasting time asking important questions with no more passion than if they were making oatmeal for the kids - maybe less. Under Ms. MacKinnon’s direction, this production lacks a pulse. We are told there are lives at stake, and occasionally see a flare up to that effect, but by and large we see only lips moving when what we want is to see hearts exploding.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "The drama unfolds with the light grace of a fine watercolor."
    Charles Isherwood for New York Times

    "A revival that is perfectly well done, but which still can’t mask the work’s skimpiness."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "The practical details tend to ring hollow. Margulies clearly isn’t interested in sociological analysis, and the characters’ backgrounds are fuzzy at best. Luckily, he fares a lot better with the emotional content, which is carefully rendered in Pam MacKinnon’s nuanced production. "
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "An insightful, entertaining work about the tangled underbrush of human relationships."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "Handsomely-acted and designed."
    Michael Sommers of the Newsroom Jersey

    "Sensitive production fully mines the work's subtle depths while serving as a strong showcase for its quartet of veteran New York stage performers."
    Frank Scheck for The Hollywood Reporter

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - The Record - Newsroom Jersey - The Hollywood Reporter