“People change and forget to tell one another.”
Words have seldom proved more bracingly true than Lillian Hellman’s curt and pithy observation of marriage and relationships. And that quote is brought to life in a delicate play currently on stage at Curtain Call Theater.
’Dinner with Friends’
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, Latham
WHEN: Through May 9
HOW MUCH: $24
MORE INFO: 877-7529, www.curtaincalltheatre.com
“Dinner with Friends,” Donald Margulies’ Pulitzer Prize winning dramedy, explores the fallout between two couples when one of them announces their impending divorce. Gabe (David Orr) and Karen (Pamela O’Connor) are a happy, successful couple in their 40s, living the upper middle class Crate & Barrel/Williams Sonoma catalog life in their suburban Connecticut home. Over a home cooked meal, they are slammed with the news that their best friends Tom (Tony Pallone) and Beth (Colleen Lovett) are about to cancel their joint subscription to happy suburban bliss. What happens over the next two hours are moments of anguished reflection, assignment of blame and some unsettling realizations that people grow and change — just not always together.
Gently crafted with quiet moments of insight and burps of humor, Margulies’ play is filled with wonderful subtle realism that also gives way to over arch bursts of self-awareness. Divorce can be messy and mean but in Margulies’ play anger and hurt are measured to careful preciseness. The level is too controlled. Characters express their disappointments in each other’s behavior and choices, but none invests in the rage or the hurt. Anger is talked about, rued about but not tossed about. Instead of becoming a play that the audience feels and experiences on a visceral level, the evening lands as lecture — a clinical study of marriage and friendship in crisis. Margulies’ play is honest, but its missing what both these marriages are missing — passion.
Direction by David Braucher doesn’t help this issue. The evening plays tentative and cautious and blocking is often static and unfocused. The cast defiantly is not. Orr’s Gabe proves a perfect listener. Absorbing all the change that is flying around him with a quiet and hopeful resolve, the actor’s subtle glints of fear and worry are well placed. O’Connor does not take the often imperious Karen into villainous territory, allowing the character’s insecurities to twinkle just below her faltering façade of calm. This is perfectly evident in a tense and coiled conversation in Act 2 between herself and Lovett. First appearing wounded and betrayed, then as artistic poseur and flake and finally revealing a truth that surprises, Lovett plays all facets of Beth’s life with an ease and honesty that scares as well as fascinates.
Pallone is brilliant. The moments of Tom’s mania and swagger, swing to paranoia and fear in a flash, and Pallone captures every moment and change truthfully and without artifice. Hurt, rage, confusion, wants — it’s a bravura performance.
For years, that old Hellman quote hung on my refrigerator door as a bellwether, puzzling and amusing my friends and family as they reached for the milk or ketchup. That piece of paper is long gone, probably underneath the fridge now, keeping company with the other quote that used to hang there — “If you are afraid of loneliness, never marry.” You can thank the Russian Book of Proverbs for that last little bit of truth, not Amana.