Monday, November 12, 2012

Review: (Vancouver) Dinner With Friends

The Love Stories of the Others
by David C. Jones
Gabe and Karen are happily married with kids in a tasteful modern home in the suburbs. Their happy - if routine - life is challenged when their friend Beth announces that she and her husband Tom have split up after 12 years of marriage and two kids. Since they introduced Tom and Beth, they summer together and their kids play together, how could they not see this coming? What does this mean in regards to their own relationship?
Don Margulies wrote the Pulitzer Prize for this script,  it went on to win numerous other awards and was made into a TV movie.  His writing is often simplistic and lightly layered and very natural...almost blandly so; the couples talk about recipes and have to deal with children screaming from the other room. Sometimes when happy the couples finish each other's sentences and when angry they cut each other off.
Mr. Margulies is just examining monogamy and betrayal from various angles, like he is flipping it between his hands.

The play starts to jump from the present state of the break-up and its impact, to back in the past when Beth and Tom first met. It skips back and forth between households as well but it does not feel gimmicky or forced. Mr. Margulies is just examining monogamy and betrayal from various angles, like he is flipping it between his hands.  It’s curious and incurs consideration. 
The Caucasian cast is stellar and tread lightly in their roles. They layer interesting back-stories and habits into their characters above and beyond the writing. Jenn MacLean-Angus is thoughtful and in control as Karen who has a bit of a drinking problem and you see the beginning of that in the flashback. Noel Johansen is differential and friendly as Gabe but there also seems to be a secret he wants to reveal. Beth is emotional, friendly and, as played by Loretta Walsh, there is a touch of madness there. Ben Ratner has a tougher part – his character enters later in the play and just as he is worried his ex-wife may have tainted their friends' view of him, she has also tainted our view. His first scenes seem to confirm he is a jerk but there is an impulsive likability that emerges as the play continues. He is needy and warm.
The whole show really feels like we are peeking in through a window of a home at the end of a cul-de- sac. Director Jennifer Clements has them all calmly interacting as within a long time lived-in relationship. This suggests great comfort but clearly not true depth or they would not be shocked as revelations and hidden feelings are revealed. In short: it's just like real life.
That sense of eavesdropping is carried through the set changes – unhurriedly they move Peter Wild's boxes and tables around like they are cleaning up after a party.
The show did need to be moved up-stage about 4 feet – if you are sitting in any row other that one or two in the tiny Studio 1398 venue, the heads of the people in front make it impossible for you to see both people in a conversation when they sat downstage; you have to bob and weave. Hmmm, much like a peeping tom peeking and ducking around a bush to see through a window, (I imagine) - maybe that was the desired effect?
When you watch married strangers from afar (or through a window…I imagine) it can be distancing, you don’t get deeply involved but it’s fascinating and you can’t look away.

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