Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Dinner With Friends
This production of Dinner With Friends, the Pulitzer Prize winning play, boasts a superb cast in a storefront theater in Chesterfield Mall. Two married couples go down their two separate paths, one (more or less) off into the sunset together, and the other ... not so much. The acting is as personal as it gets, and perfectly modulated by director Gary Wayne Barker, with a set by Jason Coale that transmogrifies in all sorts of clever ways to become a surprising variety of different rooms.
I was almost afraid to laugh at all the funny parts, it seemed so personal, and then the moments of deep introspection were like plunging off a cliff, strapped only to a flimsy hang-glider. It's what Chekhov might have come up with, if he'd ever written a modern rom-com. And, thank goodness, each of these actors could probably play Chekhov with ease.
Michelle Hand and Christopher Hickey play Karen and Gabe, the couple that seems destined to stay together, and Sarah Cannon and Chad Morris are Beth and Tom, two friends who are introduced on a blind date, and whose doomed marriage shakes everything up. Karen and Gabe delight in those small, shared experiences, while Beth is swept away by one great new thing after another, and Tom later claims to be chilled by a vast wasteland of shared celibacy. Marriage may just be too small for them, for totally different reasons.
Ms. Cannon is devastated and sexy and hilarious, as Beth is overwhelmed by mountains that end at the sea, and her own paintings are full of crashing contrasts and, ultimately, overwhelmed by divorce. Even her hair and wardrobe are encyclopedic personal statements. Mr. Morris is excellent as the boyish "player," who spins their dissolution with seductive simplicity, playfulness and charm, to get their friends on his side. It really is a deeply intimate story, full of great hidden mechanisms and secret pendulums and shocking counter-balances.
Of course, the impact on the other couple (Gabe and Karen) is dramatic too. And yet, they deal with it in a way that's small and private, even as the chaos of the modern world surrounds them like fire. Thanks to Ms. Hand and Mr. Hickey it's horrifying, but they even find a way to make that somehow work for them, too.
Through September 30, 2012, at Chesterfield Mall, upper level, by Sears. The mall is located at I-64 and Olive/Clarkson (Route 340). For more information go to www.dramaticlicenseproductions.org.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association