KPBS AIRDATE: APRIL 20, 2001
I’m sure you’ve heard the Oscar rumors that so-and-so really didn’t deserve the award this year, but he’d been nominated before and should have gotten it and didn’t so let’s give it to him this time. Well, I think that’s what happened with the 2000 Pulitzer Prize. The wonderfully witty, intelligent playwright Donald Margulies had been a finalist twice before, with much more provocative plays on much bigger themes — art, honesty and loyalty in “Sight Unseen;” literature and loyalty in “Collected Stories.” Now along comes “Dinner with Friends,” an extremely small piece about friendship, fidelity and loyalty — and Bingo! He hits the jackpot, with what must have been a sympathy vote.
Margulies has a brilliant ear for dialogue, for the real rhythms of speech, for the down and dirty dilemmas of life. But his middle-age, upper-middle class Boomers are boring in this play, even if their predicament is all too familiar.
Gabe and Karen, food-writers and obsessives, have been friends with Beth and Tom for over a decade. In fact, they introduced the wild artist Beth to the staid, jockish lawyer, Tom. Now, at a tantalizing home-cooked dinner (in fact the most interesting thing about the first act), Beth tearfully, reluctantly reveals that Tom is leaving her for another woman. The impact of this announcement is what constitutes the rest of the play, the aftershocks and after-effects on all the permutations of this 4-way relationship. It’s supposed to make you think about your own relationship. And maybe it does. But not much, and not deeply. And that doesn’t excuse the fact that we don’t care one whit for the four characters on the stage — even if the second-act flashback is the best part of the proceedings.
Actually, I cared much more for the settings these characters found themselves in. Michael McGarty’s scenic design is amazing — coming at us from every direction: up, down, forward, from the pit, from the fly-space. Sheer theater magic. And David Segal’s lighting is nothing short of breathtaking: the Cape Cod sunset, the starry night sky, the moon-dappled bedroom of the final scene. But you shouldn’t go home talking about the design.
In this flawed production, it’s really hard to tell what’s at fault: is it really, truly the play, or is it the unconvincing acting and self-congratulatory direction? Leonard Foglia, who also visited the Globe to direct “God’s Man in Texas” (another unsatisfying piece of theater), brought with him from that production, a delightfully likable, credible, most effective actor, Robert Pescovitz. He’s the best thing in this piece, too, as the self-doubting, self-searching food-fanatic Gabe. The rest of the foursome go up and down, have their moments, but don’t really touch us in the slightest. Was everyone on the Pulitzer committee facing relationship crises at the time of the voting? We’ll never know.
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.