Originally written by Donald Marquilles, “Dinner with Friends” was recently brought to the stage here at Wittenberg by student director Ryann Corbett, ‘16. In what could be called deliciously-depressing, the audience watches as two couples grapple with the realization that their marriages just aren’t what they used to be.
Gabe (Lane Schlicher, ‘17) and Karen (Kamilla Jensen, ‘19), a happily married middle-aged couple, live in Connecticut. They have been friends with Tom (Zach Hoyer, ‘19) and Beth (Caitlin Cahoon, ‘18), another married couple, for many years. In fact, it was Gabe and Karen who introduced their friends in the first place. While having dinner at Gabe and Karen’s home, Beth tearfully reveals that she is divorcing Tom, who has been unfaithful.
Tom, who had been away on business, finds out that Beth has told their friends about the looming divorce, and rushes over to Gabe and Karen’s home. Tom and Beth had planned to tell their friends about their breakup together, but Tom now believes that Beth has unfairly presented herself as the victim and feels he must tell his side of the story.
The time flashes back 12 years to a vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard, when Karen and Gabe introduce Beth to Tom. Over the course of the play, both couples are seen at different ages and stages of their lives. Tom and Beth’s breakup affects Gabe and Karen, who first feel compelled to choose sides, and then begin to question the strength of their own seemingly-peaceful marriage. They also begin to see the real meaning behind their friendships with Tom and Beth.
Though the plot itself was well-written, the performance of the actors is what really grabs the audience. Watching as Tom’s face grows red in frustration during his argument with Beth really makes you believe that this man has had enough.
I even found myself wanting to jump up and save Beth when he yells for her to hit him before throwing her to the floor. I especially loved the moment where Beth sits and listens to Gabe and Karen talk about their “perfect” vacation in Florence. As Beth’s body shifts awkwardly while she listens, you can tell something is wrong, and when she finally breaks down, you can’t help but feel sorry for her.
Much like any college play, director Corbett makes due with what she had, and it worked well with the story. As the play goes on, the characters walk across an entire black backdrop with a make-shift queen-sized bed, a table and other props that communicate the time that the scene is taking place. She even had real food and drinks used in every scene, adding to the realistic element. If you were to pay close attention, you’d even notice that the costumes render a happier time with bright colors and flower-printed shirts.
After seeing this play, I’d have to say that I would go see it a million more times, if I could. With lines like “one lousy hand-job could’ve saved your marriage,” it’s hard not to love this play and its extremely human characters. You find yourself wanting to both slap and hug each of them during their darkest moments. If you didn’t go see this play, I’m sorry to tell you that you’ve really missed out.