Friday, May 24, 2002

Dinner With Friends (Cleveland Play House)

'DINNER WITH FRIENDS' thought provoking at Cleveland Play House

Donald Margulies, the author of 'DINNER WITH FRIENDS,' now receiving its Ohio premiere at The Cleveland Play House, received a 2000 Pulitzer Prize. The play also garnered the American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award and the
Dramatists Guild Award. Anyone seeing the play will understand why.

Margulies writes plays that probe how people treat each other and how we deal with the inevitable losses in our lives. In 'DINNER WITH FRIENDS' he digs deeply into relationships, families and marriage in his comedy-tinged drama. Margulies lays bare feelings, loyalties, personal values and self concepts. This is not a feel-good play, it is a mind blowing experience. It would be nearly impossible for an audience member to leave the theatre without probing personal attachments.

'DINNER WITH FRIENDS' allows us to peek in on the lives of four long-time friends. Karen and Gabe are international food critics. Beth is an artist who is married to Tom, a lawyer. We share an evening when Beth announces to Karen and Gabe that Tom is leaving her for another woman. We later hear Tom's side of the story. A flashback scene shares the first meeting of Tom and Beth at Karen and Gabe's summer home. Flashes forward allow us to further examine the two couple's relationship now that one is divorced and the other starts to examine their lives together.

The CPH production doesn't always live up to the potential of the script. Director Seth Gordon has allowed his actors to generally graze the surface of their roles. Though this is enough to involve the audience, as evidenced by the sustained laughter and curtain call applause, he did not pull out all the emotional levels of each character. This was especially true with Kate Hodge's interpretation of Beth. Making her first appearance on a stage, Hodge displayed mannerisms more appropriate to the television screen. Her movements were repetitive, her character never seemed to feel the pain. Wayne Maugans as Tom fared better, but, again, acted out rather than reacted to his internal pain, leaving us adrift as to his real sincerity. A script line summarizes his characterization: "Stuff coming out of his mouth is like bad greeting

Susan Ericksen fairs better as Karen. By far the best performance is that of David Colacci whose frustrations, feelings and deep hurt and questioning are clear throughout.

Kent Dorsey's set design is outstanding. Housed on a turntable, we are exposed to a kitchen, bedroom, living room, summer house, bar and another bedroom. All are realistic and add dimension to the production.

Capsule judgement: DINNER WITH FRIENDS is an emotional experience. It is the kind of play that stays with a viewer long after the curtain falls. It's a wonderful way for the theatre to end what has been a satisfying season.