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Theater Review: Dinner with Friends

Jack Esformes, Marieh Delfino, Director Peter Allas, Amy Motta, and Leith Burke in Dinner with Friends.


Donald Margulies’ Dinner with Friends must be an actor’s delight: lots of emotion, a chance to play a time span of more than a decade, strong character arcs. And what’s good for the actor is good for the audience: this turn-of-the-millennium play generates laughter, introspection…and hunger.

Yes, hunger. Food is the play’s constant subject, both literal and metaphorical. Even as the characters come to grips with the failure of one of their marriages, they talk about food with the passion of sex. They prepare food and they eat food. Through good times and bad, they’ll always have the lemon almond polenta cake. (It sounded so delicious, I tracked down a recipe.)

Dinner with Friends won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2000. Like a well-made baklava, it involves many layers, some sweetness and some nuttiness. It takes place in a well-appointed kitchen and opens with a raucous conversation about the primal nature of food—especially of the Italian persuasion.

Gabe (Jack Esformes) and Karen (Marieh Delfino) are dedicated not just to food, but to each other. The couple they created by fixing up of their respective friends, Beth (Amy Motta) and Tom (Leith Burke) is less aligned, and in fact, imploding. They jockey for position with their friends; both seek empathy but Tom, despite being the fly in the soup, also wants the upper hand over his soon-to-be-ex wife.

Tom tells Beth that the breakup is her fault because she ignored the many signs of his unhappiness. A communication breakdown is surely at the heart of a couple who each claims the other doesn’t hear them. Gabe and Karen, by contrast, work out their issues through food–she complains that what she’s cooked isn’t good enough and he assures her it’s wonderful.

A second-act flashback to the fix-up provides insights into how future issues are often present at the beginning of a relationship. These four have created their own family, but as we learn by the end of the play, a chosen family can have problems just as dire as a family you’re born into

The cast, as directed with gusto by Peter Allas, goes all in, bringing meaningful moments to the terrific script. Together and separately, the friends and romantic partners are challenged to find reasons to stay together, and ways to move on. The arc of friendships contrasts with the arc of romance in ways that ring true, for better and for worse.

Dinner with Friends debuted at the Geffen Playhouse in 2000, and has been performed many times since. This production does the play proud.

Dinner with Friends is now playing at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm through April 28. Tickets are $35-45 and can be purchased here.

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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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