Set designer Jesse Poleshuck did a fine job crafting Gabe and Karen's well-ordered immaculate haven, but Beth and Tom's domicile looks too much like a restructured version of their friends' place. A starker contrast might have revealed more variation in their private lives. The more realistic the set, the more a play risks looking like a well-made sitcom that, despite its changeability, seems static. Add to this unnecessary sound effects of kids and cars, and you get the canned feeling of a TV studio set.
Fortunately the fracture in narrative structure that takes place in Act Two bolsters the play's emotional strength. Flashing back to the day Gabe and Karen introduced Tom and Beth to each other more than twelve years ago, Margulies offers the audience a poignant reminder of exactly what his characters have lost. This manipulation of time gives the audience added insight into the characters and provides a nice change of pace from acts one and three, which are dialogue-driven.
A different cast of Friends (left to right): Michael McKenzie, Susanna Frazer, Peter Bradbury, and Gayton Scott
Through December 24; 561-835-9226
Cuillo Centre for the Arts, 201 Clematis St, West Palm Beach
While Margulies's well-sculpted script makes Dinner with Friendsmore engaging than your standard-issue relationship drama, at the end one has the sense of having spent an hour and a half looking into someone's kitchen or bedroom window, without the prurient pleasure of voyeurism. Aren't there enough failed relationships, messy divorces, and wrecked friendships in our daily lives? Do we look to the stage to see characters we already know, or characters who will reveal something new to us? Realism minus artistry doesn't provide the space for new realities to take root.
The George and Emily of Our Town are long extinct as sociocultural representations, but as a portrayal of two human beings struggling with the question of what it means to be married, they penetrate an emotional reality that still feels relevant. Although the actors in Dinner with Friendsdefinitely take their characters below the surface, they lack the degree of subtlety needed to fully meet the challenges of Margulies's script.