Olney Theatre Center Dinner with FriendsBy Courtney Ferguson • Sep 3rd, 2010 • Category: Reviews
Olney Theatre Center
Olney Theatre Lab, Olney, MD
Through September 26th
2:00, with one intermission
Reviewed August 29th, 2010
The Olney Theatre has taken on the task of producing the area premiere of Dinner with Friends by Donald Margulies. Dinner with Friends is a stark examination of marriage, divorce and relationships. Margulies writes dialogue that is true to life with characters we can all relate to in one way or another. When divorce happens, questions begin to arise. What happens in the aftermath of a divorce? What happened to get you to that point? Are you making the right decision? These questions lay the foreground for the play and provokes a fear that drives the characters to find the answers.
The play begins in the dining room of Karen and Gabe, two international food writers who are hosting a dinner for their friends, another married couple Beth and Tom. The only thing is, Tom is not there. Karen and Gabe spout off about their recent trip to Italy before Beth reveals the truth behind Tom’s absence. Tom has been seeing another woman and is leaving her. Beth returns back to her home from the dinner, and Tom shows up to the house. After finding out that Beth has told about their divorce, he is infuriated and wastes no time going over to Karen and Gabe’s house to give his side of the story…and we’re left to determined who’s the injured party here!?
As Karen and Gabe attempt to console their friends’ devastation, their world is flipped upside down as they are forced to examine the state of their own marriage. Julie-Anne Elliott and Paul Morella gave an intriguing performance as a perfect Connecticut couple married for over twelve years who slowly but surely begin to break down as the insecurity and doubt about their marriage sets in. Tom, played by Jeffries Thaiss, was an interesting choice giving an extremely energetic performance. There was a level of absurdity to his performance that was almost distracting at times, but nonetheless commanded attention. Beth played by Peggy Yates portrayed an array of emotions, the audience witnessed her deal with sadness, anger, liberation and excitement as she made her journey through the aftermath of divorce.
Technically a few things could have been better. The blocking was not always effective, many times throughout the play I was met with the actor’s backs for long periods of time, and my energy was spent trying to get a look at their faces. The bluish gray undertone that was used for the set design was a little confusing. The dark colors evoked a mood that was dark and uneasy as opposed to complimenting the scenery.
My initial instinct is not so much to critique the performances, but commend the actors for doing justice to the play and bringing to life all of the playwright’s intentions. The most exciting thing about this play is that it immediately strikes up conversation. Intermission was the time for people to discuss what they saw and figure out whose side they’re on. During the show many heads were nodding as audience members were able to recognize themselves or other people through the characters’ dialogue.
Welcome to today’s performance of Dinner with Friends by Donald Margulies. We are proud that Olney Theatre Center is a local leader in presenting award-winning dramas to our audience. We have produced or co-produced all of Pulitzer-Prize Winning Playwright Donald Margulies plays in the Washington area.
Often we go to the theatre to hear stories about larger-than life characters or imaginary lands; stories that we would not be able to recreate in our own living rooms. That is one of the wonderful effects of the theatre. It gives us the ability to witness something fantastic. Another of the theater’s magical powers is that it can take us inside the most intimate quarters, the inner workings of the human heart. Places that we would never be able to explore on our own. It brings us up close and personal with the most intimate relationships so we can observe them inside and out.
Dinner with Friends has this magical power. We know these people. These characters are neighbors, they are our friends, they are us. Even if we don’t know them personally or recognize them, their humanity is familiar. This play reveals the universal insecurities that we all face when we experience monumental changes in our lives. How we face change and with whom we choose to face it is the emotional landscape of this play. It may be an imagined landscape, but there is none more recognizable.
This production wouldn’t be possible without the essential support of the patrons of Olney Theatre Center. Helen Marshall has provided generous sponsorship of this production. Many thanks to her and all of our supporters.
All our best,
Jim and Amy
- Gabe: Paul Morella
- Karen: Julie-Ann Elliott
- Beth: Peggy Yates
- Tom: Jeffries Thaiss
- Director: Jim Petosa
- Scenic Designer: James Kronzer
- Costume Designer: Howard Vincent Kurtz
- Lighting Designer: Daniel Maclean Wagner
- Stage Manager: Josiane M. Lemieux
- Sound Designer: Christopher Baine
- Producing Director: Brad Watkins
- Technical Director: Eric Knauss
- Company Manager: Bobby Maglaughlin
- Costume Shop Manager: Jeanne Bland
Disclaimer: Olney Theatre Center provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/5496.
Courtney Ferguson is currently a student in the theatre arts program at Howard University pursuing a B.F.A in acting. Her plans are to go on to grad school to study Voice and Speech. Her credits include work on and off the stage, and she can be seen in the upcoming production of The Laramie Project with the Providence Players.