“Dinner With Friends” at Newport Theatre Arts Center
Experience the Drama of an Awkward Dinner Party Without the Attendant Emotional Pain
By Dana Hammer
Breakups. Most of us have been through one or five, and they’re never pleasant. You think this person is wonderful, and perfect for you, and you open your heart to him and are rewarded with suffering, or anger, or ennui, or operatic despair, depending on your personality and circumstances. And while it is unquestionably hardest on the couple doing the breaking up, the fact of the matter is…it’s kind of hard on other people, too.
I’m aware that it sounds insensitive, and of course we would never say to our friends “I’m so sorry you and Tammy are breaking up, but did you think about how this would affect our bowling league?” Because that would be rude. But the thing is…it does affect the bowling league, and the standing game nights, and the group vacations — and the dinner parties.
“Dinner With Friends” is a play written by Donald Margulies, and it explores this very situation. Two couples are meeting for a dinner party. Gabe and Karen are a foodie couple who have an aspirational relationship. Tom and Beth were set up by Gabe and Karen, with whom they have been friends for years. When Tom and Beth announce that they are splitting up, drama ensues.
It’s a situation all-too-familiar to many of us — witnessing the demise of a relationship in real time. In true life, it’s unsettling and uncomfortable, but in a play, it’s a way to explore the importance of relationships, different kinds of love, and the risks of making oneself vulnerable. And this production has actors who are willing to take us to those vulnerable places. According to the director, Kathy Paladino, “The actors in this production are just brilliant. They are smart and insightful and have so honestly opened up themselves. They are a joy to watch.”
And while of course, excellent acting is a huge draw for any production, the play itself is written with honesty, heart, and verve. When asked what drew Paladino to this play, she replied, “First of all, the beautifully written characters. They are so multifaceted and complex. Second, is the story. I think Marguiles taps into our deepest fears (and hopes) about relationships which are so universal and interesting.”
This play promises to allow us to explore our fears in a safe space — all the drama without the risk — while entertaining us and giving us a fun night out. But even though the relationships that are being tested are not our own, we can still relate to these struggles, and reflect on our own choices. How have we handled our own breakups, and the breakups of friends? How would we handle these breakups now? Because breakups are hard, but so are relationships — both platonic and romantic. The key is determining if the hard parts are worth it. Sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren’t. And it’s often difficult to know which is which.
That’s the real takeaway from this play. According to Paladino, “Being in a relationship is inherently risky, as we put our hearts on the line with the very real possibility that they will be broken. I hope everyone can identify with this on some level and relate and empathize with what each character is going through. And, of course, enjoy the journey, finding tears and laughter along the way.”
When friends break up, it affects more than just the couple involved. Sides are taken. Friendships dissolve. Lines are drawn in the sand. Rituals and traditions evaporate. While the couple breaking up suffers the most, the friends and family of the couple are often in pain too, as they adapt to a new type of friendship, or perhaps, no friendship at all.
“Dinner With Friends” explores the demise of a relationship, and how it affects their closest friends, and should be seen by anyone who has ever been or will ever be in a relationship. Come see it at Newport Theatre Arts Center. Maybe have dinner with some friends after.
Dana Hammer is the author of The Cannibal’s Guide to Fasting, My Best Friend Athena, and many plays and short stories. She unapologetically loves Joe Goldberg.
“Dinner With Friends”
Newport Theater Arts Center
2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach CA 92663
March 31 - April 23, 2023
(949) 631-0288, www.ntactickets.com