note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi
Gabe … Barlow Adamson
Karen … Julie Jirousek
Beth … Anne Gottlieb
Tom … Robert Pemberton
Children’s Voices … Thomas McCormick; Elena McCormick
The good news is that the Gloucester Stage Company now has air conditioning; the even-better news is that it has a hit with its production of David Margulies’ Pulitzer Prize-winning DINNER WITH FRIENDS, a comedy-drama about love, friendship, marriage and divorce. Twelve years ago, newlyweds Gabe and Karen played matchmaker to their friends Tom and Beth; the two married couples have since become inseparable, raising two sets of children, vacationing together and enjoying gourmet meals prepared by Gabe and Karen, two international food critics. At one such dinner, Beth, a failed artist, announces that Tom, a successful lawyer, has left her for another woman. Gabe and Karen are devastated; Karen automatically casts Tom as the villain whereas Gabe chooses to puzzle it out on the sidelines. When Tom and Beth divorce and move on to happier lives regardless of what their friends think, Gabe and Karen are left to take stock of their own marriage now that they are on their own. Mr. Margulies beautifully shapes his treatise on co-dependence so that DINNER WITH FRIENDS serves up fresh, not soapy, and he subtly turns his foursome this way and that to reveal them in all their sympathetic ironies --- if there is a so-called villain in the piece, it would be Karen, herself, who threw the ill-matched Tom and Beth together in the first place so that she could have an extended family of her own choosing. Several scribbles ago I mentioned that a Pulitzer Prize does not necessarily make a play immortal; I also conclude, based on my viewing three other recent winners, that a Pulitzer need not guarantee that the chosen play is even good. Not so, here, on both counts: DINNER WITH FRIENDS still has legs and is Pulitzer-worthy.
The Gloucester production has been directed by Scott Edmiston, the Boston area’s most stylish director. Last year I scribbled, “Style seems to be Mr. Edmiston’s creed, and from what I’ve seen thus far it is his weakness as well as his strength: his productions sparkle and they run like clockwork; I enjoy them but feel there is little going on beneath their polished surfaces.” Happily, Mr. Edmiston’s production is warm, low-keyed and well-detailed so that even creating a salad becomes interesting --- there is a nice touch when Karen’s disapproval towards Tom has her simply sitting downstage with her back to the audience --- and Jenna McFarland has contributed a handsome, calm world of polished wooden floor and symmetrical windows and blinds to contrast with ever-simmering emotions, my only nit-pick being the manual scene changes performed in silhouette that inevitably grind the action to a halt; a unit set with Tom-Beth lighting here and Gabe-Karen lighting there would have kept the action flowing and even evoke the characters’ incessant wandering in and out of each others’ lives.
Last year I also scribbled that Mr. Edmiston brings out the best in actors, and he continues to do so. He has drawn a likeable Tom-brat out of Robert Pemberton and guided Barlow Adamson back to his unique gentle burliness as Gabe. The men are fortunate to be paired with Anne Gottlieb and Julie Jirousek, two of Boston’s loveliest actresses, as Beth and Karen --- what a pleasure not only to gaze upon their beauty (and on one stage!) but also upon their flawed, everyday goddesses so that the Messrs. Pemberton and Adamson need little stimulus to appear smitten with them in their flashback scene. Both actresses have been bitten by the Camp bug in in the past; thanks to Mr. Edmiston, that demeaning critter has been swatted for the time being. All this, and air conditioning, too….