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Dinner with Friends examines contemporary relationships

July 1, 1993

Dinner with Friends examines contemporary relationships

By Edith McCauley, Theater Critic

Don Margulies’ Dinner With Friends playing at the Goodman Theatre examines the relationships of two couples whose friendship began in their youth. In the first moments of the play, Beth (Suellen Burton) reveals to Karen (Mary Beth Fisher) and Gabe (Scott Jaeck) that husband Tom (James Krag) is divorcing her for a more interesting and youthful woman. Disbelief that a seemingly perfect marriage could come to a tragic end is overshadowed by Karen’s and Gabe’s feelings of personal loss.

A flashback at the beginning of Act II takes place at the summer home of Gabe and Karen on Martha’s Vineyard. Newly married, the bliss of young love impels them to share their joy by introducing Tom and Beth. Tom is overwhelmed by the artistic Beth. They seem the “perfect couple.”

Do we know the person with whom we live? Evidently not, for as the evening progresses, misunderstandings dominate. Returning to the Vineyard, Karen and Gabe retire, substituting the latest novel for lovemaking that once enriched their lives. The sadness of that loss makes them question the validity of their marriage. The passions of youth ebb, and our everyday lives are taken up with coping … the dinner menu, new carpeting, and finding the latest video game for the kids.

Dinner With Friends has aspects of a TV soap. The analysis of failed love so dominates the plot that at times, we wonder, “What are they whining about?”

The audience identified with the 40-somethings living the lifestyle of successful middle-class Americans. Margulies’ script evoked much laughter, but tragedies happen daily in the real world. The characters in this piece are completely unaware of anything outside of their immediate environment. Gourmet dinners, fine wine, summer wines, and perfect children make for great holiday letters. The reality of life is a bit more complicated.

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