Dinner with Friends a Meal That Stays with You Long After Dessert Is Over

Do we really ever know what goes on behind the closed doors of even our closest friends? Outward appearances can be very deceiving. We do, after all, live to a certain extent behind masks, showing the world around us what we want them to see… projecting an image that we imagine to be, perhaps, how we want the world to view us.  Such is the premise of Donald Margulies Pulitzer Prize-winning play Dinner with Friends, currently winding up its run at Schenectady Civic Players.

Photo by Jen Moak

Upper-middle-class Connecticut couple Gabe and Karen have been friends with Tom and Beth forever. In fact, Gabe fixed his college best friend Tom up with Karen’s best friend Beth on the weekend in Martha’s Vineyard so many years ago. 

Gabe and Karen are successful food critic writers who apparently travel the world exploring and writing about some of the world’s most interesting gastronomic delights. Tom is a successful attorney following the path that was more or less predetermined for him, while Beth is an aspiring artist. Each couple is raising their children and living the great American dream. 

Photo by Jen Moak

The facade begins to crack as Beth confides to her friends after an amazing dinner one evening that Tom has left her for another woman, was never happy in his marriage, and after more than a decade, has decided to find happiness and contentment elsewhere. 

Director Sky Vogel has done a masterful job nuancing his incredibly talented cast through their paces. The play is filled with ennui, humor, sadness, and cynicism. Vogel makes the most of all that Margulies beautifully crafted script has to offer. 

Christopher Urig, making his Civic Players debut as Gabe, is the somewhat myopic happy-go-lucky food critic. He tends to look at the world through rose-colored glasses, thinking the best of everyone and in constant disbelief that perhaps his closest friend is not who really knew him to be. Emily Bryan is Karen, Gabe’s equally myopic visioned wife. Going through life in suburban Connecticut, she is absorbed with her picture-perfect life. Together, the couple sees the world apparently the way they think it should be rather than the reality around them. Urig and Bryan play off of one another beautifully. They are both so believable that it’s easy for the audience to get sucked into their world. 

Photo by Jen Moak

Meaghan Rogers, a third of the triumvirate making their debuts on the Schenectady stage is the blindsided Beth. Rogers has the most range in this production, seeing her life crumble around her. She is truly blindsided as she watches everything she has believed as her reality washes away.  Ryan Palmer is Tom in a very interesting twist for him.  Accustomed to watching this incredibly talented comedic performer grab hold of, for the most part, the “bad guy” and tackle a much more dramatic role than we have seen from him and do it with gusto and believability.

It is a pleasure to watch this foursome spar on stage. Each one is ideally cast, and Vogel’s direction gives the audience the most they have to offer without having a sense of pushing the envelope.

Peter Kantor has created a most interesting bi-level set design that houses this multi-location piece. Cathy Schane-Lydon’s music design accents the show perfectly, creating a mood, time and moving the piece subtly along. Beth Ruman and Marcia Thomas dress the characters in time-appropriate period outfits.

Photo by Jen Moak

The only criticisms to be found are that when the actors are playing either on the second level or off on the sides of the stage, they tend to get lost in the shadows. It is also difficult at times to hear dialogue from the second level as it gets swallowed up in the room.

Dinner with Friends will make you think, find the humor and the sadness in the reality of life, and make you wonder what is actually going on in the homes of your closest and dearest, or perhaps wonder if your own life is all that you project it to be.

Enjoy an evening with Dinner with Friends through Sunday, May 21, at Schenectady Civic Players, 12 South Church St., Schenectady. For tickets or more information: www.civicplayer.org or call 518-382-2081.

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