“Dinner With Friends” at the Westport Country Playhouse

By Susan Granger

Associate artistic director David Kennedy has turned Donald Margulies’ perceptive Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the fragility of marital relationships and the ephemeral nature of friendship into a strident, sit-com version of a summer stock comedy.

Basically, the plot revolves around two 40-something Connecticut couples. There’s happily married Karen (Jenna Stern) and Gabe (Steven Skybell) and their unhappily-splitting best friends, Beth (Mary Bacon) and Tom (David Aaron Baker) The first act takes place one snowy night, while the second contains a flashback to 12 years earlier, when Karen and Gabe introduced Beth to Tom at their seaside cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, before settling into what’s happening with all four members of the quartet during the summer following that fateful winter’s night.

Deception, betrayal and infidelity are the themes, as Karen poignantly muses, “You spend your entire life with someone and it turns out that person, the one person you completely entrusted your fate to, is an impostor.”

Unfortunately, either through casting choices or off-key direction, the foursome fails to establish an affecting connection which means the audience is never fully emotionally engaged about the outcome. Without dynamic energy and proper timing, the pace tends to drag, despite Margulies’ crisp dialogue that’s distinguished by insightful honesty and inherent humor. On the plus side are Lee Savage’s smoothly rotating sets, Matthew Richards’ inventive lighting and Emily Rebholz’ costumes. And if the title sounds familiar, it was a far-more-effective 2001 made-for-TV movie with impressive performances by Dennis Quaid, Andie MacDowell, Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear.

 “Dinner With Friends” plays in Westport through June 19. For further information and tickets, go to www.westportcountryplayhouse.org or call 203-227-4177.

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