Review: ‘Dinner With Friends’ at Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions

Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions opens its fifth season with Dinner With Friends, a 2000 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Donald Margulies, directed by Kristofer Kauff. An intricate drama about the long-time friendship between two couples, Dinner With Friends examines aspects of ownership and control, betrayal, expectations, and change.

Aly B. Ettman and Dexter Hamlett. Photo by Anna Northrup.

Aly B. Ettman and Dexter Hamlett. Photo by Anna Northrup.

The four actors skillfully capture the nuances of relationship, while the intimate close-up atmosphere of Theatre on the Run brings the subtleties just within grasp. The direction by Kristofer Kauff allows for comfortable conversation, humor and surprises. Time is whiled away with a monotone indulgence or moves along to make us see things from a different angle.

Aly B. Ettman, Artistic Director and Producer, expertly plays the role of Karen. Karen’s husband Gabe is played with sensitive strength by Dexter Hamlett. Bruce Rauscher’s Tom conveys a convincing charm as a guy who wants his friend “to listen,” and Alyssa Sanders’ Beth is vulnerable, “artsy and incompetent,” and gracefully unburdens.

The opening scene takes place with Gabe and Karen in a one-way conversation while Beth distractedly nods her head and pours another sip of wine. Tom is away on business, making the usual foursome only three.  As the dinner conversation continues and off stage voices of the children call out, Beth tearfully reveals that Tom has been unfaithful and that a divorce is eminent.

The four actors are seen in changing interactions, criticizing  and communicating, claiming ownership, demanding control, and taking sides until we discover we don’t “really know” what goes on behind closed doors.  One moment, Tom and Beth talk about the kids in comfortable conversation as if nothing has changed. The next, Beth is accused of indulging in the “myth of her talent,” the argument escalating into combat that becomes conducive to sex.

Adding to the dynamic of these one-on-one conversations is the economical and effective Scenic Design by Dan Remmers that rotates the action from dinner table, to bedroom, from patio, to a downtown bar.

Lighting design by Peter Caress effectively peals back the twelve years with the changing colors of a Martha’s Vineyard sunset aided by Projection Design by Austin Fodrie. David Jung’s adds atmosphere and texture with day to day sound, whether a noisy bar, outdoor patio or a passing car.

Bruce Rauscher and Alyssa Sanders. Photo by Anna Northrup.

Bruce Rauscher and Alyssa Sanders. Photo by Anna Northrup.

Dinner With Friends is a compelling story, reminding us that facts have several layers, situations aren’t always what they seem, and control an illusion. Change is inevitable, whether plowing ahead with your partner and meeting the deadlines, marinating the snapper; or stepping away from a foregone conclusion. We make discoveries by living the moments of friendship and commitment, no matter how fleeting.

I highly recommend that you see this engaging performance of Dinner With Friends. You may catch a glimpse of yourself and extraordinary friendships that have bearing on the way we see one another.

Running Time: Two hours and 25 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

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Dinner with Friends plays through October 2, 2016 at Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions performing at at Theatre on the Run – 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, in Arlington VA. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 339-7993, or purchase them online.

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