Dinner With Friends...and by Friends, I Mean the Dream Pairing of Donald Margulies and Pam MacKinnon
We're only half-way into February, but I am 85% sure that the now-open Dinner With Friends will make my year's end list of favorite shows. It's THAT solid.
I can't really say that I am surprised. As evidenced by the impeccably-directed Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Pam MacKinnon has talent with a capital 'T'. And Donald Margulies Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner With Friends - a tale of two long-time couples, one in the process of a break-up while the other unraveling internally as they process their friend's falling out and reflect on their own marriage - could not have been a more perfect fit for her.
In short, she took the Laura Pels Theatre and turned it into a looking-glass into these couples lives. Each scene, seven in total, came with its own energy and its own design to accompany the story at large - no small feat. When the wine country set opens the second act, you'd think you stumbled into a bigger theater down the road during intermission.
Combined with Margulies fantastic writing, we get the full story, fully-realized. Every up, down, bottle of wine, plate of food, trip, late-night conversation. Everything. After two hours, I felt like I knew these people. I related to them and were consistently intrigued by them and that astounds me because I'm a young-twenties single dude whom has never had a life experience similar to what is transpiring on stage.
Dinner With Friends is not exactly a safe piece either. The writing convincingly portrays Tom and Beth, the couple plagued with infidelity and dishonesty whom move on to other suitors just as soon as their marriage ends, as the 'happy', proactive ones compared to the conventional and cordial, but underwhelmed Gabe and Karen. How Margulies subverted that without sacrificing believable, consistent characterization is beyond me. The final scene - where Gabe and Karen are on the verge of breaking through a communication barrier - was loaded with so much tension and fear, yet it was nothing more then the two of them talking in bed.
And while every scene between Gabe and Karen were subtle and captivating, it helped that Jeremy Shamos and Marin Hinkle are giving career-best performances, if not, close to it. From their opening jag about traveling to Italy and letting their foodie, neuroticism flow, I kept asking myself, "are they married in real life?" (I checked at intermission; they are not). They just felt so lived-in and in-sync and comfortable - playing off each other beautifully - that I was convinced they've been married for decades. It's rare for two actors to establish that bond within minutes of being introduced, but that was only the beginning for Shamos and Hinkle.
The former embodies Gabe's passivity and natural charisma, earning some laughs along the way, while the latter is all passive-aggression, with a deeply vulnerable interior, as Karen. Watching these two evoke that couple that everyone knows - coupled with their character's "behind-closed-doors," slowly resonating dread - resulted in numerous high points in a production that already had so much going for it.
Of the many reasons to love Dinner With Friends, the most prominent is because it, to quote the general consensus, "hits so close to home." If you have ever been in a relationship, you would probably get a lot more out of this show then I would...and I got A LOT. Strangely enough, Dinner With Friends has never had a run on Broadway...well, MacKinnon and company just made quite a case for that idea.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus