Everyman is currently serving up the 2000 Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama, “Dinner with Friends,” by Donald Margulies and helmed by Founding Artistic Director, Vincent M. Lancisi (a self-professed foodie). The play was also made into a well-received HBO film in 2001. It seems out of place with the usual, diverse productions of Everyman. But one thing that you can always count on is that this company of fine actors – supported by an astonishing creative team – unfailingly delivers a high-quality production. This is no exception.
…Everyman delivers a funny and heartbreaking production about love, loss – and hope.
The issue is that this territory has been covered many times since the play’s premiere in 1998. Against the titanic changes of a post-9/11 culture (economic divide, #metoo, immigration issues, and divisive politics), the problems of two, white, upper-middle-class couples feel dated and out of touch. But the fears about the loss of love, marriage and friendship ring true.
Over dinner, Gabe and Karen wax rhapsodic about their trip to Italy and their food adventures. After gamely attempting to show interest, Beth tearfully breaks down. She reveals that her absent husband, Tom, has met a “stewardess” (really a travel agent) and they are getting a divorce. This is the bomb that will change their relationships forever with people taking sides, moving on, and friendships slipping away.
The two couples, also best friends, live in an enviable world of comfortable Connecticut homes with showroom kitchens, successful children (heard but never seen), fabulous foodie trips to Europe and summers at the “vineyard” (Martha’s Vineyard). Married for 12 years, Gabe (M. Scott McLean) and Karen (Beth Hylton) are the seemingly perfect couple. Partners in writing food articles (Karen is also a to-die-for cook) they often, and humorously, relate many things to food. Shortly after they were married, they introduced Tom (Danny Gavigan), Gabe’s friend since college, to Beth (Megan Anderson), an aspiring artist (and apparently not a very good one), during one of those summers at the vineyard. Beth and Tom married soon after and the lives of the two couples became intertwined. For Karen, she has made these friends her family. Gabe thought he and Tom would grow old together as friends. But people change and sometimes you cannot hold onto them.
There is a fight between Beth and Tom that turns uncomfortably physical, then into lovemaking, then a joke. This is problematic in these times. Though Tom and Beth aren’t terribly likable and very self-absorbed, the actors make them so human. Tom doesn’t seem to have an attachment to his children. It’s all about him and how he feels. And now he has a new, young girlfriend who dotes on him.
Beth seems flighty and insecure. A bomb is dropped about Beth towards the end of the play that puts her position as the wronged wife in question. She evolves into a stronger person after the divorce but reveals her resentment towards Karen for her perfectionism.
Resident company members Anderson, Hylton and Gavigan give their usual, top-notch performances but it is M. Scott McLean as Gabe who captivates in his first production with Everyman. His chemistry with Hylton is flawless. His character values his marriage – and his friendship – even as it changes and evolves. He believes in fighting for it. Karen can be controlling but it is not out of spite – it hides her insecurity.
Another thing you can expect from Everyman is jaw-dropping sets and a creative team that immerses the audience in the production. Set designer Donald Eastman’s clever and gorgeous rotating stage goes from a stunning suburban kitchen to a summerhouse kitchen, to bedrooms and even a New York City bar. It is brilliant. The work of lighting designer Harold F. Burgess II, sound designer Sarah O’Halloran, and costume designer David Burdick complement his set.
Lancisi and his actors have created very real and flawed human beings. If you can set aside some of the uncomfortable and dated aspects of this play, Everyman gives us a funny and heartbreaking production about love, loss – and hope.
Running time: Approximately two hours with a 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: Mature themes and adult language.