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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Dinner With Friends
Westport Country Playhouse

Dinner With Friends
Mary Bacon and Jenna Stern
Dinner with Friends, at Westport Country Playhouse through June 19th, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in the year 2000. The drama, sporting some comic moments, about two couples in their early to mid-forties and their evolving relationships, gets better and better as the two hour play moves onward. New Haven's Donald Margulies, a skilled dialogue writer, provides the script which triggered, within my memory, television's "Thirtysomething," the involving series about couples and friends which was on the small screen from 1987-1991.

With children out of hearing range, Beth (Mary Bacon), after having dinner in the kitchen of her close friends Karen (Jenna Stern) and Gabe (Steven Skybell), blurts out that her husband Tom (David Aaron Baker) has left her. Tom has gone off with a flight attendant. Bacon, for much of her subsequent time on stage convincing and effective, does not persuade with her initial declaration. That specific delivery, at least at a recent midweek matinee, was not completely believable.

Nor is the reaction of the stiff, awkward Gabe. Ill at ease, he offers clichés in response. Karen, however, is entirely compassionate and credible and, throughout the performance, human. Soon thereafter, Beth is back home in her bedroom and is presently face to face with, you guessed it, Tom. The nearby airport, due to inclement weather conditions, is closed; and, without any place as a destination, Tom returns home.

So it goes. Dinner with Friends is a story of marital infidelity and so much more. How will the couple with the solid relationship cope after witnessing the break-up of a nearby twosome?

Margulies was wise to, at the beginning of his second act, move backward more than a dozen years in time. Karen and Gabe are, in effect, fixing up Tom and Beth; or Beth with Tom. Beth is lively artist and Tom a lawyer. There is more than a hint, however, that Tom could also have eyes for Karen. She, though, is not taken with him.

David Kennedy directs the current production and he proficiently guides the actors through a variety of set changes. Designer Lee Savage represents a kitchen, bedrooms, a living room, the Vineyard house, Karen and Gabe's patio, a Manhattan bar and so forth. One scene yields to the next fluently and show moves along at a fairly brisk and appropriate pace.

The thematic terrain is familiar. Novels, plays and films revisit, time and again, the difficulties of marriage, particularly those partnerships which have lasted more than a few years. Whether each work is fresh, inviting and more than briefly engaging is of greater interest. This production of Dinner with Friends fully clicks after intermission. During the patio segment, Beth says, "You can't control everything, Karen, even though you think you can." Ultimately, Beth divulges that she is now about to marry another man—whom she knew ten years before. Tom and Gabe try to figure things out at a bar ... everyone is grappling with middle age and its exigencies.

Jenna Stern pinpoints Karen's character early on and her performance is winning. Mary Bacon, as Beth, and David Aaron Baker, as Tom, play individuals who are moving along, and they do so more persuasively as the plot unfolds. Steven Skybell's Gabe, a man who is not terribly in touch with anyone's feelings, tends to exasperate.

The play was presented Off-Broadway in 1999. The new rendering in Connecticut has the feel of a contemporary piece. Westport Country Playhouse continues with its run of Dinner with Friends through June 19th. For ticket information, call (203) 227-4177 or visit www.WestportPlayhouse.org.


Photo: Carol Rosegg


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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