Providence Players Dinner With FriendsBy Amy Berlin • Apr 17th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Providence Players: (Info) (Web)
James Lee Community Center Theater, Falls Church, VA
Through April 20th
$18/$15 Seniors, Students
Reviewed April 13th, 2013
Donald Margulies has a gift for writing realistic dialogue. His Dinner with Friends feels like one is eavesdropping on two actual couples – Tom and Beth, whose relationship is falling apart, and Gabe and Karen, who take this surprising news hard and personally. Providence Players of Fairfax has produced an enjoyable version of Dinner with Friends, although it doesn’t quite match the naturalism of Margulies’ script. Nonetheless, the design team and actors have brought enough care and energy to the task at hand to ensure that audiences will enjoy the meal.
The strengths of director Tina Thronson’s production are many. Raedun de Alba’s set design is deceptively complicated. Although each setting is simple on its own, there at least six different locations, and de Alba has managed to make each one detailed and realistic. The kitchens and bedrooms especially are perfectly decorated by Susan Kaplan & Sue Winfield, who also provided the many food-related props. Thronson makes excellent use of the environment, moving her actors around the stage in a wholly authentic way. Jimmy Gertzog’s lighting design further transports the audience with careful, individualized choices for each setting.
Thronson has assembled a quartet of appealing actors who bring animation and intensity to their roles and are especially adept at portraying the chemistry and history of each of their relationships. Each of the actors have definite moments where they shine: David P. Whitehead and Melissa Dunlap as Gabe and Karen have a sweetly teasing rapport with one another, finishing each other’s sentences and communicating by touch and glances. Their fixation on analyzing every meal is a true highlight of the evening. Michael Donahue as Tom is excellent in his first scene with his estranged wife, Beth, as he navigates the familiar terrain of Beth’s emotions with care and strategy. Jayne L. Victor, who plays Beth, is perhaps the strongest of the four in constructing a believable, heartbreaking, and yet still funny, character.
Because these four actors must carry the whole show, they and Thronson have the hefty challenge of maintaining pace, creating character arcs, and avoiding the feeling of repetition. Here is where the show runs into a bit of difficulty. While the first act gallops along, the second act gets a bit bogged down, especially in two static scenes on a patio and in a bar, which could have used more imagination in the staging and atmosphere. Additionally, the actors tend to push a bit too hard throughout the evening, going overboard on the comedy and exaggerating their reactions. For example, Whitehead and Dunlap had repeated and large reactions to the supposed perfect state of their union, intimating secrets or a disaster in the making, that proved unfounded and unsupported by the play’s end. Thronson would have better served the play by guiding the actors to subtlety and nuance, which would have enabled them to present more fully formed and less caricatured roles. Conversely, Thronson and costume designer Robbie Snow (whose work in the rest of the play is admirable) also missed an opportunity where broader humor would have actually have been welcome by choosing not to provide radically different looks for the flashback scene.
Margulies’ play requires quiet, real-life exchanges, with the humor coming from the familiar and from the details of the characters. Thronson’s production relies too much on broad, presentational acting and, therefore, lacks the feeling that the audience has quietly removed the fourth wall and is spying on the life within. Rather than an intimate Dinner With Friends, this production, while entertaining and possessing many successful aspects, feels more like a convention banquet, although with better food.
According to the great Leo Tolstoy “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Good Victorian that he was, Tolstoy required hundreds of pages to tell his stories of love, marriage, and the end of love. Contemporary playwright David Margulies, the author of Dinner with Friends, tells this story in seventy-two pages. I admit-I was first drawn to this play for the seventy two pages. However, at closer reading, I realized that this play is a little gem.
To quote one of its characters: “The thing is, you never know what couples are like when they’re alone; you never do.”
In this insightful piece, Margulies introduces us to two couples. Over the span of the play we observe their bond with each other and with their dearest friends. With an extraordinary “ear,” he writes dialogue that will resonate with any modern audience. In the end, the beauty of this play is that it really makes us think. It reveals some profound truths about the nature of courtship, marriage, alienation, and the sometimes overwhelming challenge of maintaining the most important relationships in one’s life.
I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed directing it.
Tina Thronson, Director
- Gabe: David Whitehead
- Karen: Melissa Dunlap
- Beth: Jayne L. Victor
- Tom: Michael Donahue
- Director: Tina Thronson
- Producer: Chip Gertzog
- Stage Manager: Mike Mattheisen
- Stage Crew: Chip Gertzog, Nick Harrison, Robbie Snow, Andra Whitt, Lauren SullivanTechnical Technical Director: Jimmy Gertoz
- Technical Crew: Sarah Mournighan, Michael Sinsabaugh, Audrey Suarez
- Set Design: Raedun de Alba
- Set Construction: John Coscia
- Set Construction Crew: John Coscia, Tom Coscia, Gerardo de Alba, Raedun de Alba, Michael Donahue, Joe Garguilo, Chip Gertzog, Jimmy Gertzog, Kevin Harnisch, Beth Harrison, Nick Harrison, Susan Kaplan, Mike Mattheisen, Elizabeth Pfeifer, Gordon Pfeifer, Michael Sinsabaugh, Robbie Snow, Tina Thronson, David Whitehead, Sue Winfield
- Set Decoration: Susan Kaplan & Sue Winfield
- Set Painting: Sue Winfield
- Costume Design: Robbie Snow
- Hair and Makeup Design: Beth Harrison
- Properties: Susan Kaplan & Sue Winfield
- House Management: Mike Daze
- Playbill: Ellen Burns
- Playbill Advertising: Jayne Victor, John Coscia, David Whitehead
- Photography: Chip Gertzog
- Publicity: Chip Gertzog
Disclaimer: Providence Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9375.
Amy Berlin has a degree in theatre performance from the University of Maryland, and is currently living in Richmond, Virginia.