Dinner With Friends

Relationships are central to the human condition, so it is natural that art focuses on intimate interactions as well. Beginning with Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, honest, gut-wrenching, and sometimes profane explorations of marriage found their way into the theatrical mainstream. Over the past few years, we have also seen our share of humorous attempts to explain the clash between male and female cultures, including The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron, Defending the Caveman and, most recently, The Vagina Monologues.

Annete Helde and Mark Rubald, actors
Annette Helde and Mark Rubald
Photo by Terry Shapiro
Not surprisingly, most of these explications of love affairs and marriages fail miserably because either they never rise above subjective exorcisms of the playwrights demons or they never offer anything more than clichés on masculine and feminine behavior.

Every once in a while, however, a work rises above the heap of mediocrity and provides us with a sublime treatment of the issues. Dinner with Friends, Donald Margulies' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, now in production at the Denver Center, is such a play. The story involves two married couples, longtime best friends, and what happens when one of the couples goes through a divorce.

Remarkably, Margulies manages to explore the dysfunctional behaviors that accompany the trauma of divorce without overplaying the psychological violence. Conversely, his sense of humor remains light, suffusing the story with laughs without detracting from the emotional stakes. In the end, we are neither battered nor charmed, but appreciative of each character's unique salvation.

Director Bruce Sevy has crafted an exquisite and powerful experience and populated it with a dead-on cast. Mark Rubald and Annette Helde are Gabe and Karen, world-hopping gourmets and journalists with an apartment in town and a summer house on Cape Cod. Caitlin O'Connell, Beth, an artist, and John Hutton, Tom, a lawyer, were separately friends of Karen and Gabe before they are introduced and later married. Each of the performances mirrors the fine details of Margulies' demanding script and the evolutionary arc of its characters.

Designer Vicki Smith also exceeds the challenge with seven remarkable sets that one-after-the-other leave us astonished. Here's a piece of theatre that lives up to its advanced billing. The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Donald Margulies' Dinner With Friends, directed by Bruce Sevy, runs through December 8th at the Ricketson Theatre in the Denver Center. 303-893-4100.


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