Quotes from made for tv movie Karen: But those were such happy times! We saw them practically every weekend. When would she have time to have an affair? Gabe: I don't know. During the week? In a long series of original HBO movies, the predecessor being "WIT". "Dinner With Friends" turned out to be one of the best dramatic shows HBO has produced. First of all to get a top-notch director such as Norman Jewison and Pulitzer Prize winning play to work with, they were ahead before they began. Dinner With Friends, a CurtainUp review CurtainUp
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A CurtainUp Review
Dinner With Friends

You spend your entire life with someone and it turns out that person, the one person you completely entrusted your fate to, is an impostor? --- Karen
But it can't be as simple as that. It never is -- -Gabe
Does the above interchange between a couple whose years of companionable dinners and shared vacations screech to a halt along with the marriage of their best friends sound like a "live" outtake from TV's relationship sitcoms? Penned by anyone other than the insightful and adroit wordsmith Donald Margulies, Dinner With Friends could easily rank as a one star or less meal with theatrical gourmet fare pretensions.

Happily the author of Collected Stories and Sight Unseen has once again marshaled his ability to free character and situation prototypes from their cookie cutter mold familiarity. Just as happily, director Daniel Sullivan has given the script a handsome, smoothly orchestrated production and four actors who fuse Margulies' words with the finesse of a finely tuned string quartet.

The plot can be summed up in three sentences. Happy newlyweds Gabe (Matthew Arkin) and Karen (Lisa Emery), introduce his college chum Tom (Kevin Kilner) to her work chum Beth (Julie White ). One twosome becomes two, the couples' friendship is firmly cemented by this happy turn of events. Fast forward a dozen years, couple #2 breaks up leaving couple #1 reeling emotionally and, not so incidentall,y upsetting the friendship.

The situation propelling Tom into the arms of a woman who he feels is "120% there for him" as Beth is not does not blaze any new trails. Nor does it take long to guess at the envy and doubt his jumping the marital ship stir in Karen and Gabe. However, Mr. Margulies adeptly gives the new-old story the benefit of sensitive characterization and consistently witty dialogue.

The title dinner sets the plot in motion with a cornucopia of trendy jokes spoofing Citerella-Zabar-Dean &Deluca food aficionados. But while the zingers continue, comedy meanders into tragi-comedy. The surprise is less in what happens as in the subtle shifts between the various points of view spurred by the arithmetic of these relationships:

At the top of the list we have each couple vis à vis each other — Karen and Gabe, Beth and Tom, the two couples as Karen+Tom+Beth+Tom foursome, Karen and Tom when they were younger (there's a fleeting but meaningful interplay just after she introduced him to Beth) and after Tom leaves Beth). The best friendship has hidden agendas evidenced by Karen's domestic presents to the undomestic Beth. When Beth stops being the friend who's a "mess" (unable to cook, would-be artist) she tells Karen she never knew if those gifts meant she was "being remedial or hostile." Tom and Gabe's male bonds are also strained by the separate roads taken.

Before you put away your calculator, factor in each of these people's relationship with the unseen parents whose marriages served as do or don't role models for a fulfilling life. In the final analysis there are no real winners or losers in these scenes from two marriages.

The friendship at the root of the saga probably was as much built on a foundation of deception as Beth and Tom's marriage (it turns out that she had a history with the man she ends up dating). On the other hand, the actors all come off as winners.

Matthew Arkin and Lisa Emery are funny and touching as the couple who are adventurous cooks but unlikely to stray into the world of hedonistic self-fulfillment. Kevin Kilner is terrific as the walking cliche of the good looking, perennial college boy who becomes a physically fit, sexually renewed "boy toy at forty-three." Julie White is marvelous as the wife whose unfaithful spouse walks out on her with a tirade of recriminations "pouring out of his mouth like bad greeting cards." Her metamorphosis into a counterpart of the newly in love Tom is equally persuasive. (If they'd met at forty, they probably would have been blissfully happy together!).

Much credit for this tasty meal is due to Neil Patel for creating half a dozen apt scene changes (via a versatile turntable) on the Variety Arts' handkerchief sized stage. The rest of the crafts team has also done outstanding work.

by Donald Margulies
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
With: Matthew Arkin, Lisa Emery, Kevin Kilner, Julie White
Set Design: Neil Patel
Lighting Design: Rui Rita
Costume Design: Jess Goldstein Sound Design: Peter Fitzgerald
Music & Sound Score: Michael Roth
Running time: 2 hours and 5 minutes; including one 20 minute intermission
Variety Arts,110 Third Av, (13th/14th Sts), 239-6200
Performances from 10/22/99; opening 11/04/99
Reviewed by based on 11/11/99 performance
Closing 5/27/01
April 10, 2000: Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama

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