Love stinks

Dinner with Friends

Rated 5.0

Falling in love? That’s easy, and quite a lot of fun, especially when the relationship is new.

But staying in that relationship for years? With kids, while paying the bills? That’s tricky business, especially as daily routines take over like crab grass, and your conversations with your spouse become dominated by secretarial communication about domestic details. Outwardly, things look fine—and you’re certainly busy to the max. But inwardly, you feel the initial warmth of the relationship receding.

Donald Margulies’ Dinner with Friends (Pulitzer Prize, 2000) plumbs this dilemma. And this (long overdue) first local production of the play by Capital Stage hits the nail on the head.

Eric Wheeler and Jamie Jones play the couple Gabe and Karen, food writers with successful careers. The play begins as a yuppie comedy, with these two chatting about their latest trip to Italy while dishing up an amazing meal that seems to have been produced with effortless ease.

Their longtime friend Beth (actress Karyn Casl) is visiting for dinner. She’s come without husband Tom (Ken Figeroid), who is Gabe’s best buddy. Tom’s absence turns out to be significant.

Margulies’ script shifts the focus, illuminating this crisis from different angles. We see Karen and Beth talking about the split, Gabe asking Tom if he’s really sure he wants to walk away from the marriage and Karen so angry with Tom that she can barely speak to him.

There’s also a terrific argument between Beth and Tom—it’s the dramatic highlight of the first act, really. Casl shows a captivating presence onstage that recalls her powerful performance (years ago) as another woman maneuvering through a bad dilemma (Isabella in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure). Figeroid’s work recalls his role 10 years ago as another man whose action might be interpreted as selfish as he drops a partner (Louis Ironson in Angels in America).

The quiet scenes between Karen and Gabe, wondering if their relationship is any more secure than Beth and Tom’s, are every bit as convincing as the big fight between Beth and Tom.

Director Peter Mohrmann connects throughout with the humor and anguish, as well as the sensitivity and ambiguity, of the script. David Fulk’s flexible, modular set makes the tiny stage feel bigger than it is.