You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Dinner with Friends

Playwright Donald Margulies has an enviable gift: the ability to draw complex, nuanced characters and make them seem entirely real. In "Dinner With Friends," which receives its West Coast premiere in director Daniel Sullivan's smoothly flowing production, Margulies focuses on four old friends and the bonds among them.

Karen - Jane Kaczmarek
Gabe - John Carroll Lynch
Beth - Julie White
Tom - T. Scott Cunningham

Playwright Donald Margulies, whose previous efforts include such acclaimed works as “Sight Unseen” and “Collected Stories,” has an enviable gift: the ability to draw complex, nuanced characters and make them seem entirely real. In “Dinner With Friends,” which receives its West Coast premiere in director Daniel Sullivan’s smoothly flowing production, Margulies focuses on four old friends and the bonds among them. The comedy features plenty of humorous moments, but behind the wit lie more serious themes — questions about commitment, fidelity, love and the very meaning of relationships.

Gabe (John Carroll Lynch) and Karen (Jane Kaczmarek) are the perfect Connecticut couple. Well off and possessing exquisite taste and reasonable talent, they inhabit a world in which finding an ideal Italian tomato is a matter of prime importance. They have their tense moments, of course, but they are a loving, mutually respectful pair.

So when best friend Beth (Julie White) comes for dinner and breaks the news that she and hubby Tom (T. Scott Cunningham) are ending their marriage, Karen and Gabe are shocked, to say nothing of appalled. We soon find out that Tom’s resolved not to reconcile, having spent the past decade feeling stifled and unappreciated. Now he’s taken up with Nancy (who remains unseen), a travel agent some 15 years younger than him. “All of my stories are new again,” he tells Gabe without the slightest hint of irony.

But Margulies’ play isn’t really about Tom and Beth’s breakup; it’s about how Gabe and Karen react to the situation, which is not well. Karen can’t even stand to be in the same room with Tom. More importantly, both she and Gabe feel a creeping insecurity, wondering if perhaps their fail-safe marriage may also be susceptible to such shocks.

Unfortunately, Margulies gets distracted from the central issues and bogs this work down with lifestyle critiques. A particularly keen observer of social foibles, he can send up upper-middle-class consumer culture like nobody else, but the playwright’s superb jokes obscure the drama.

The curious structure Margulies employs doesn’t help. For the opening of act two, the action is set 12 years earlier, at a summer house on Martha’s Vineyard, where Karen and Gabe are busy fixing up Beth and Tom. Then it’s back to the present again — or rather, six month hence — only this time, two scenes are played simultaneously. The finale is especially pat. It’s a pity Margulies hasn’t honed this work more, making it edgier, for “Dinner” has much to say about the state of modern marriage and friendship.

As for the acting, no quibbles. Lynch plays Gabe as ostensibly jolly but discreetly hints at regrets not far below the surface. Kaczmarek keeps Karen just this side of too uptight, which makes the character interesting if not exactly someone we wish we knew in real life. Cunningham’s Tom is attractive (and foolish) enough to elicit some sympathy, even if one can’t really conscience his behavior. And White plays Beth as more complicated than audiences may initially realize.

Thomas Lynch’s detailed sets are a series of interchanging open-sided cubes (well lit by Pat Collins) that glide along a vast black stage. All that empty space makes a fine metaphor for the gaping abyss that exists for these characters, and perhaps for us as well, outside the safety of often glum routine.

Dinner with Friends

South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, Calif.; 507 seats; $45 top

Production: A South Coast Repertory presentation of a play in two acts by Donald Margulies. Directed by Daniel Sullivan.

Creative: Sets, Thomas Lynch; costumes, Candice Cain; lighting, Pat Collins; music, Michael Roth; stage manager, Scott Harrison. Opened Oct. 23, 1998. Reviewed Oct. 24. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast: Karen - Jane Kaczmarek
Gabe - John Carroll Lynch
Beth - Julie White
Tom - T. Scott Cunningham

More Legit

  • 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama'

    What function do superhero stories play in American society? Are they merely escapist distractions for head-in-the-clouds teens, or could those same formats actually serve a practical function, providing useful tools for everyday life? Recognizing these comic book fantasies as by far the dominant form of contemporary mythmaking for a generation of young people, emerging playwright [...]

  • Danielle Brooks'Ain't Too Proud - The

    How 'Orange Is the New Black' Star Danielle Brooks Became a Broadway Producer

    Danielle Brooks earned a Tony nomination when she made her Broadway debut as Sofia in the 2015 revival of “The Color Purple,” but now the “Orange Is the New Black” star is working behind the scenes as a producer on the new jukebox musical “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.” “I [...]

  • Ain't Too Proud review

    Broadway Review: 'Ain't Too Proud'

    In the wake of the long-running “Jersey Boys” and the short-lived “Summer,” director Des McAnuff is back on Broadway with another show built around the song catalog of a music act — and although “Ain’t Too Proud” has all the right sounds and slick moves, this bio-musical of the R&B vocal group the Temptations is [...]

  • 'White Noise' Theater Review: Suzan-Lori Parks

    Off Broadway Review: Daveed Diggs in 'White Noise'

    Any new play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (“Topdog / Underdog”) demands — and deserves — attention. And in its premiere production at the Public Theater, her latest, “White Noise,” opens with a burst of brainy energy that lasts through the first act. But it takes a nosedive in the sloppy second half, [...]

  • Alexander Dinelaris

    'Jekyll and Hyde' Movie in the Works Based on Broadway Musical

    The Broadway musical “Jekyll and Hyde” is getting the movie treatment from Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris. Dinelaris, who is writing and producing the adaptation, won an Oscar for the “Birdman” script and was a co-producer on “The Revenant.” He is producing “Jekyll and Hyde” as the first project under his New York-based development company, [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Listen: The 'Balls-Out Theatricality' of Sam Mendes

    If you find yourself directing a Broadway play with a cast so big it includes a goose, two rabbits, more kids than you can count and an actual infant, what do you do? If you’re Sam Mendes, you embrace the “balls-out theatricality” of it all. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “There is a kind [...]

  • James Corden Tony Awards

    James Corden to Host 2019 Tony Awards (EXCLUSIVE)

    James Corden has been tapped to once again host the Tony Awards, Variety has learned exclusively. “The Late Late Show” host previously emceed the annual theater awards show in 2016, and won the Tony for best actor in a play for his performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors” in 2012. “I’m thrilled to be returning to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content