Dinner With Friends
The Berkeley Rep is currently presenting the Northern California premier of David Margulies's Pulitzer Prize winning play, Dinner with Friends. Frankly, I don't know what to make of the play and/or the characters. It seems like a succession of related acts, rather than a complete play. Even the playwright, who teaches playwriting at Yale, admitted he did not really know what to think of these people.
The drama is set in suburban Connecticut and follows two couples, longtime friends, whose lives are shaken by a marital breakup. Over coffee and lemon almond polenta cake, international food writers, Gabe and Karen first learn that the marriage of their best friends, Tom and Beth, is falling apart. As Tom and Beth each tell their side of the story, Gabe and Karen are forced to re- examine their own relationship, and they sense the horrors of staying together. You get the feeling that Gabe and Karen have not had a heart to heart talk in many years. Most of their lives have been centered on the “perfect marriage of Tom And Beth” that has now fallen apart. Gabe and Karen are shocked at what is revealed of their friends' lives.
I was not sympathetic to any of the characters; maybe because I know people like this, maybe because there is a little part of me in each of the characters. There was very little drama to build upon in this play. Most of the arguments are rhetorical, and the conclusion is ambiguous.
The production itself was excellent. The ensemble cast consists of local favorites Lauren Lane and Dan Hiatt who played the food writers Karen and Gabe, and Lorri Holt and Bill Geisslinger who played the divorcing couple, Beth and Tom. Lauren Lane, best known for her TV role in “The Nanny,” played her role professionally. Her best scene and the most telling scene in the text is the beginning of the second act when she and Lorri Holt have a straightforward talk, and you realize that Karen needs Beth in her life. “Every Karen needs a Beth,” which implies someone needs another to look down upon. This is repeated in the next scene when Gabe meets Tom in a bar.
The play takes place in the present with the exception of a single flashback to 12 years earlier when Karen and Gabe introduce Beth to Tom at their place on Martha's Vineyard. This is the best scene in the sketchy play.
Lorri Holt and Dan Hiatt gave the finest performances. Ms. Holt gave a skillful fragility to the victimized Beth. Dan Hiatt gave a great performance as the nice guy Tom with a caviling and melancholy detachment under all the good-natured cheer.
I will say that the play does make you think. Among four of us, we had a lively discussion of the characters and what they meant, as we drove back to San Francisco.
The production closes January 7th. The Rep has added two additional performances due to popular demand. Tickets run from $40.50 to $51.00 Call 510-647-2949 or visit their web site www.berkeleyrep.org. The next production will be the West Coast Premier of Bridget Carpenter's Fall, opening January 24th, with previews starting January 19th.
Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area