Donald Margulies' 2000 Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Dinner With Friends" chronicles consequences that test loyalties among longtime friends and within marriages when one of a close pair of couples erupts in a bitter breakup.
The foibles and personalities of Margulies' finely delineated characters remain fresh and contemporary in the smart revival that opened Thursday night at Roundabout Theatre's Laura Pels Theatre. As he often does, Margulies raises important questions about relationships while providing few answers.
Although all the characters are only seen together once, in a flashback to the beginning of their foursome, their intertwined friendships and long history are cleverly illustrated through Margulies' trenchant dialogue in a series of brief, telling scenes. Thoughtful, straightforward direction of an expressive cast by Pam MacKinnon allows characters to silently reveal their reactions to disturbing epiphanies.
Tom and Beth, (Darren Pettie and Heather Burns), getting unamicably divorced, seem immature and uncommunicative. Their happily settled, food-obsessed friends Gabe and Karen, (outstanding portraits by Jeremy Shamos and Marin Hinkle), are deeply concerned with their friends' situations, but soon find themselves nervously examining the potential fragility of their own marriage.
Unrepentant, narcissistic Tom leaves Beth and their two children for another woman and a life of carefree sex after 12 years of marriage. Pettie imbues this bullying, petulant man-boy with a suave obtuseness, breezily tossing off Tom's destructive, self-pitying and often ignorant remarks. The character seems like a parody of men who refuse to suck it up and deal with the responsibility (and ups and downs) of family life, raising kids and sustaining long-term relationships.
Hinkle adds comedic flair to her character's touchingly self-aware introspection, while Shamos brings a powerful depth to Gabe's sorrowful, contemplative stares into space. Burns is a little opaque as passive-aggressive Beth. Seemingly fragile and vulnerable, Beth purposely punctures the complacency and compassion of both Gabe and Karen along her road to recovering from the breakup.
In the final poignant scene, as Karen and Gabe mourn the loss of their friends and their own youthful abandon, Karen asks him ruefully, "What does this say about our friendship? What were all those years about?" And as they cling to one another in their too-small bed, Margulies leaves open the question of whether a marital bed is a safe enough life-raft to navigate both the turbulent changes and complete ordinariness that life can bring.