‘Dinner with Friends’

‘Dinner with Friends’ is the 2000 Pulitzer Prize play written by Yale Professor of English, Donald Margulies. The play also won the American Theatre Critics’ Association, New Play Award. The 2001 TV movie, which starred Dennis Quaid, Andie MacDowell, Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette, was nominated for two Emmys.

This wonderful blend of hilarity and character-study is now being presented at the Old Mill Theatre, on the corner of Mends Street and Mill Point Road in South Perth. This 90-minute play starts at 8.00 pm, with the evening performances on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, running until Saturday 8th March, and with one matinee on Sunday 23rd February.

The curtain-less stage is divided into Karen and Gabe’s dining area in one flat, and Tom and Beth’s bedroom in another Connecticut flat. The bedroom is built on a rotating stage, with ‘interesting’ artwork by Tim Prosser.

       Middle-aged Gabe (Michael Dornan) and Karen (Laila Gampfer) are happily married with kids; have invited their friends of many years around for a meal. They understand that Tom (Phil Barnett) is away on business and so only Beth (Maree Grayden) has arrived. Effervescent and wearisome Karen is relating to Beth every second of her recent Italian holiday, with a few prompts and corrections from Gabe. Suddenly Beth bursts into tears and explains that Tom is not ‘on business’, but that she has in fact asked her manipulating, two-timing husband to leave their home.

      The four characters meet two at a time, trying to win each other’s support. It is these private and outspoken meetings – along with a flashback to a decade earlier – that gives us a real insight into the situation.

Skilfully and delicately directed by WAAPA lecturer and well known scriptwriter, Noel O’Neill, the play opens with an extremely funny first scene before swinging around to an intriguing glimpse of the true depth of the couples. The American accents were well matched and thankfully not overpowering. A cleverly constructed story, with well thought-out and fascinating dialogue.

The cast had a full understanding of the mood changes, the humour and the understated acerbic attitudes. Their delivery was perfect whether it was passion, hate or confusion.

Good lighting design by Ben Davis with additional modification (as Ben is on holiday) by the operators, Sarah Christiner and Cassie Stafford. One minor problem was that as the cast took their bow they were in total darkness, perhaps they were too far forward on the stage, but there didn’t appear to be any lamps available on the house rig to light them. The sound effects by Graeme Johnson were crisp and realistic.

The stage crew Susan Sator and Rex Gray, led by Stage manager Kirsty Loader, were very efficient, although I felt that the amount of prop removal on the dining room set was excessive and unnecessary, when dimming of the well considered lighting could isolate the areas.

An excellent, very well presented play by any standard. Highly recommended.