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 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 minutiae of life has overtaken them. The break up 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.
Dinner With Friends – By Donald Margulies; directed by Pam MacKinnon
WITH: Heather Burns (Beth), Marin Hinkle (Karen), Darren Pettie (Tom), Jeremy Shamos (Gabe) and Alex Dreier and Aimee Laurence (Children’s Voices).
Sets by Allen Moyer; costumes by Ilona Somogyi; lighting by Jane Cox; music and sound by Josh Schmidt; hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe; fight director, Thomas Schall; production stage manager, Charles M. Turner III; production manager, Aurora Productions; general manager, Nicholas J. Caccavo; associate managing director, Greg Backstrom; associate artistic director, Scott Ellis. Presented by the Roundabout Theater Company, Todd Haimes, artistic director; Harold Wolpert, managing director; Julia C. Levy, executive director; Sydney Beers, general manager. At the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theater, 111 West 46th Street, Manhattan; 212-719-1300, roundaboutunderground.org. Through April 13. Running time: 2 hours.