If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

“DINNER WITH FRIENDS" AT WESTPORT PLAYHOUSE

Donald Margulies’ 2000 Pulitzer Prize winning marital comedy, “Dinner With Friends”, still looks in good shape at the Westport Country Playhouse where a new production of the author’s most popular play recently opened.    Margulies is the man of the hour producing at least one critically acclaimed play a year, it seems -- the latest being his Tony-nominated “Time Stands Still” set to return to Broadway next fall.

“Dinner With Friends” concerns a pair of married, middle-aged couples whose friendship is tested when one of the pair, Tom and Beth, reveal that a divorce is in the works.    Solidly married Gabe and Karen are stunned by the news and the fallout begins as alliances are questioned, marriages are re-examined and the bonds of friendship become strained.  A revisit to “Friends” since its Connecticut premiere in Stamford in 1999, finds the play as moving and ruefully funny as ever.  Margulies imbues his bittersweet look at marriage with uncomfortable truths, great compassion and much wisdom. 

At Westport, director David Kennedy leads an able if not overly charismatic cast in the four roles.  A little more subtlety and less shouting in the characterizations wouldn’t hurt – especially in the play’s strident first act.  By act two, however, all the actors seemed to have relaxed into their roles.   Steven Skybell and Jenna Stern bring both complexity and warmth to Gabe and Karen.  As the troubled couple, Mary Bacon and David Aaron Baker - after an early confrontation scene that starts far too high and then has no where to go - eventually are quite sympathetic and convincing as the divorcing couple.

Scenic designer Lee Savage comes up with seven gorgeous settings for the various locales and, while clearly no expense was spared, one wishes the scene changes could have been eased into place with a little more speed.   Matthew Richards’ lighting achieves nice effects particularly with a lovely sunset scene on Martha’s Vineyard.  While not a definitive production of Margulies’ wonderful play, Westport’s “Dinner” is served well enough to recommend a visit.

“Dinner With Friends” continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through June 19th.  For further information and ticket reservations call 203.2274177 or visit online:  www.westportplayhouse.org.

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company.  He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

This review appeared in Elm City Newspapers beginning June 9, 2010


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