If you’re expecting a feast of comedy with Donald Margulies Dinner With Friends you will be delighted at Tom Attenborough’s stylish production that opened on Friday at London’s Park Theatre.
For this is a veritable banquet of thought-provoking bitter-sweet drama with more than a soupçon of astute observational humour at the expense of our American cousins.
No wonder DWF, which ponders the magic ingredients of friendship between two middle-aged couples, proved a recipe for success, winning its author a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Actually the title is something of a misnomer. This is more a delicious gourmet menu of sniping, bitching, selfishness and vanity than a tasty dish of loving friendship.
It starts out with gastro-bores Gabe and Karen tediously subjecting their friend, Beth, to a stultifying meal-by-meal (recipe-by-recipe) account of their trip to Italy. No wonder the poor woman bursts into tears.
Now, at this point, you may be thinking this is a trite, ho-hum, folksy slice of American day-time soap (Friends without the benefit of Jennifer Aniston). But you’d be so wrong.
Pretty soon battle lines are drawn up as Beth reveals that her 12-year marriage is over and husband Tom has left her for a travel agent willing to do anything in bed.
It’s all his fault, of course…or is it? First we, and Karen, side with poor Beth who has been left to bring up the kids. But then a furious Tom demands to put his side of the story and Gabe’s sympathies are torn.
Couples going to see DWF will leave it hopelessly conflicted and questioning their own relationship. Margulies has written such razor-sharp dialogue that it will cause you to question everything.
There’s a moment when Tom reveals that, as an experiment, he decided to see how long it would be before Beth physically touched him. After a week of no contact he broke down and cried.
The opening night audience had become very quiet at this comment, perhaps thinking about the last time they had touched their partners.
The dialogue parries back and forth between the warring couple with Gabe and Karen’s seemingly perfect marriage caught in a pincer movement.
Even they, with their common love of cooking and the kids, feel the strain and wonder if they’ve got it right.
Gabe lays into his best friend, Tom, telling him to work harder at his marriage. Never once does Tom, who really is going through some sort of mid-life crisis, think of his children but is, instead, selfishly, pursuing the needs and desires of his carefree bachelor days.
But the final scene throws a curve ball which makes us, once again, reflect on how the couple’s break-up has affected the foursome.
Although a US play we have only one real American actor, Hari Dhillon as Tom. The remaining cast of Sara Stewart, Shaun Dooley and Finty Williams are Brits and have varying degrees of success with the accent.
Stewart’s Karen is a bit of a blonde, unable to initially assimilate that Beth’s marriage is over, and constantly wittering on about dishes and food.
At one point she’s at a chopping board wielding a sharp knife and slicing up garlic and shallots, mixing them with lime juice and soy sauce, while delivering her lines.
I don’t think Masterchef has anything to worry about but her efforts were distracting (plus the aroma of garlic suddenly wafting around the theatre) and I found myself wondering what she was making and waiting for her to slice off a fingertip rather than listening to what she was saying.
Dooley’s Gabe beams like a child when his haute cuisine is praised but he’s frequently unable to verbally express the same dedication to his occasionally exasperated wife. He loves her but just can’t find the words (typical man, I hear you thinking). Meanwhile, she finds it impossible to stop talking (I know, typical woman).
I enjoyed every morsel of this flavoursome drama. Dinner With Friends is witty, engaging, original and engrossing, examining the nature of friendship without making a meal out of it.
Dinner With Friends runs at Park Theatre until November 28.
Dinner With Friends is witty, engaging, original and engrossing, examining the nature of friendship without making a meal out of it.