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A CurtainUp Review
Dinner With Friends
By Elyse Sommer
Happily the author of Collected Stories and Sight Unseen has once again marshaled his ability to free character and situation prototypes from their cookie cutter mold familiarity. Just as happily, director Daniel Sullivan has given the script a handsome, smoothly orchestrated production and four actors who fuse Margulies' words with the finesse of a finely tuned string quartet.
The plot can be summed up in three sentences. Happy newlyweds Gabe (Matthew Arkin) and Karen (Lisa Emery), introduce his college chum Tom (Kevin Kilner) and to her work chum Beth (Julie White ). One twosome becomes two, the couples' friendship firmly cemented by this happy turn of events. Fast forward a dozen years, couple #2 breaks up leaving couple #1 reeling emotionally and not so incidentally upsetting the friendship.
The situation propelling Tom into the arms of a woman who he feels is "120% there for him" as Beth is not does not blaze any new trails. Nor does it take long to guess at the envy and doubt his jumping the marital ship stir in Karen and Gabe. However, Mr. Margulies' adeptly gives the new-old story the benefit of sensitive characterization and consistently witty dialogue.
The title dinner sets the plot in motion with a cornucopia of trendy jokes spoofing Citerella-Zabar-Dean &Deluca food aficionados. But while the zingers continue, comedy meanders into tragi-comedy. The surprise is less in what happens as in the subtle shifts between the various points of view spurred by the arithmetic of these relationships:
In the final analysis there are no real winners or losers in these scenes from two marriages. The friendship at the root of the saga probably was as much built on a foundation of deception as Beth and Tom's marriage (it turns out that she had a history with the man she ends up dating). On the other hand, the actors all come off as winners. Matthew Arkin and Lisa Emery are funny and touching as the couple who are adventurous cooks but unlikely to stray into the world of hedonistic self-fulfillment. Kevin Kilner is terrific as the walking cliche of the good looking, perennial college boy who becomes a physically fit, sexually renewed "boy toy at forty-three." Julie White is marvelous as the wife whose unfaithful spouse walks out on her with a tirade of recriminations "pouring out of his mouth like bad greeting cards." Her metamorphosis into a counterpart of the newly in love Tom is equally persuasive. (If they'd met at forty, they probably would have been blissfully happy together!).
Much credit for this tasty meal is due to Neil Patel for creating half a dozen apt scene changes (via a versatile turntable) on the Variety Arts' handkerchief sized stage. The rest of the crafts team has also done outstanding work.