Dinner with Friends, Donald Margulies delicious and painfully honest look at the effect of infidelity on relationships, opens at, you guessed it, a dinner party. But someone is missing – Beth’s husband, Tom. Over the following 90 minutes we join Gabe and Karen, married couple and long-time-friends of Beth and Tom, as they discover what can happen when you stop choosing to love your spouse in favour of your own selfish desires.
From the first descriptions of food, through Beth’s (Julia Papp) heart-breaking announcement of her marriage’s breakdown, to Gabe’s achingly truthful conclusions about relationships, the script never lets up. Unfortunately, despite the obvious dedication, effort and care given by the cast, the first act lacks spontaneity and often come up a little short of believable. Still, it’s hard to say what the reason for this may be as in its second act Front Foot Theatre’s production truly comes alive. It’s like someone flipped a light switch. Suddenly the audience is thrust into 40 minutes of engaging, believable, and painfully honest performances as we watch Gabe, Karen, Tom, and Beth cope with the bombshell revelations of the first act.
Front Foot Theatre’s incredibly innovative set slots together beautifully to allow the cast to transition smoothly between scenes and though it might be a cheesy thing to say, Helen Rose Hampton and Jason Wilson fit together just as wonderfully as foodie couple Karen and Gabe. With an energy that bounces right off the stage it’s not hard to understand how their excited re-telling of a recent trip to Italy causes heartbroken Beth to crack and share the news that will forever change their dynamic. It’s in this moment that Dinner with Friends becomes hard to watch. As our primary storyteller Gabe is caught off guard by the sudden uprooting of what he’s come to expect from life and the audience is sucked into the resulting emotions right along with him. His discovery of the mess that ensues when your best friend cheats on your wife’s best friend is frank and painful but let’s be honest, it was never going to be pretty.
Throughout its runtime Wilson’s Gabe anchors the story in sober emotion as he brings quiet confusion, deep frustration, and decisive commitment to his role. While, Tom, portrayed by Front Foot Theatre’s co-founder Kim Hardy, sends the friend’s world spinning on its axis with his explosive approach to a marriage he sees as restrictive, unjust, and unfair.
Commendably, Hardy doesn’t shy away from Tom’s self-centred bitterness, instead playing his desires to their full extent, leaving the audience to decide for ourselves how we really feel about his actions. As the wife left behind when her husband chooses morning runs and more sex over their family, Papp brings a broken restlessness to Beth that is uncomfortable to watch. It must be said, Tom is a man all of us have met, and like Beth, some of us have loved.
Dinner with Friends begs the question what drives us to love? And what do we do when whatever that is stops driving us after we’ve made a commitment like marriage? To their credit the company skilfully presents two very different answers to these questions that will leave audience members either unsettled or reassured. Though truthfully, it’s hard to predict which.
Written by: Donald Margulies
Directed by: Lawrence Carmichael
Produced by: Front Foot Theatre
Dinner with Friends plays at Golden Goose until 26 November. Further information and bookings can be found here.