Sunday, April 3, 2011

Palm Beach Dramaworks: Dinner With Friends (5 reviews)

Palm Beach Dramaworks opened its production of Donald Margulies' Dinner With Friends on February 25, 2011.
This candid bittersweet Pulitzer Prize winning play examines two married couples who have been close friends for years, and what happens when one marriage falls apart.
J. Barry Lewis directed a cast that included Jim Ballard, Eric Martin Brown, Erin Joy Schmidt, and Sarah Grace Wilson.

John Thomason reviewed for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
Perhaps, if you've chosen a life of monastic celibacy or hermetic isolation, you may find nothing relatable in Dinner With Friends, currently enjoying a superlative revival at Palm Beach Dramaworks. But for the rest of us – the majority of the population who yearn for human contact and love, well aware of the devastating risks they engender – Donald Margulies' acute dramedy is a shattering portrait of domestic conflict and its inevitable ripples.
It helps that Dramaworks' cast, divided equally between South Florida regulars and out-of-towners, is so impeccable. Ballard has never been better as Gabe, bringing the play's least showy, most reclusive character to vivid life. Wilson, in her Florida acting debut as Beth, strikes a perfect balance between her polarized archetypes: the emotionally bruised victim and, in the play's second act, a new woman radiating self-confidence.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
At Palm Beach Dramaworks, the insightful, resonant script is getting a new and beautifully acted production under the graceful direction of J. Barry Lewis.
Ballard, Schmidt, Wilson and Brown coalesce into an artful ensemble. Ballard’s Gabe is the loyal husband who tries to do the right thing, even as he sometimes says words guaranteed to set the more volatile Karen off. Schmidt makes Karen almost incredulous at Beth’s giddy emotional rebirth, which seems a kind of affront to Karen’s internalized rules for living. Wilson and Brown get the fun of acting a relationship out of order: first, the passion-fueled angry breakup; then, a return to their first meeting as strangers; finally, personal rebirth, though at a cost to their children. The work of both actors is subtle and lovely.
And here's something I've never seen in reference to scenery at Dramaworks; a bad review:
The one thing about the production that doesn’t work is set designer Vince Mountain’s solution to creating multiple locations on Dramaworks’ small stage. He uses moveable modules – wooden benches that can be reconfigured as seating, tables, beds or a bar – against the backdrop of plain bare walls and windows. The look is spare and unattractive, unsuited to the materialistic world in which a longtime friendship is shifting and, ultimately, crumbling.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for South Florida Theater Review:
Director J. Barry Lewis and a skilled ensemble bring Margulies’ subversive nightmare into such blinding daylight that many couples will go home examining their own relationship...
The performances are superbly naturalistic; you never catch anyone acting. All four actors create people so recognizable that they might well be your neighbors.
Ballard has the least showy of the roles which makes his work all the more impressive as he clings to the belief that you work through the rough spots in any relationship.
But it’s Schmidt who takes the prize with her perfection-obsessed, eternally chatty Karen who is unaware that she focuses on chopping up vegetables for dinner so that she can ignore the scream of inner demons. The actress has a quirky mélange of high and low registers, pure and scratchy timbres. But she uses them to spin Margulies’ simple language with inventive inflections and intonations that are simultaneously unexpected and yet completely familiar from our own conversations.
...this is almost repetitive, but Lewis is one of the finest directors for intimate drama working in South Florida, possibly in regional theater, period. He consistently elicits nuanced performances that seemingly leave no crevice of the script unexplored or illustrated. His staging is so organic and naturalistic that only a trained theater professional can see his hand at work.
Hap Erstein reviewed for The Palm Beach Post:
...a gut-wrenching and often quite funny production, directed by J. Barry Lewis, that has echoes of such earlier works there as Harold Pinter’s Betrayal and Michael Frayn’s Benefactors.
... Erin Joy Schmidt, recently seen in Goldie, Max & Milk, is a standout as stubbornly loyal, yet parentally controlling Karen. Jim Ballard’s Gabe is less judgmental, more conflicted and ultimately more burdened by the fate he had chosen for himself. Sarah Grace Wilson (Beth) and Eric Martin Brown (Tom) are husband and wife in real life, which may explain the authenticity of their first-act verbal battle royal.
Jan Sjostrom reviewed for The Palm Beach Daily News:
Director J. Barry Lewis shapes the play’s crescendos and pianissimos with discernment.
...subdued lighting and Jim Ballard’s eloquent body language are all that’s needed to convey Gabe’s devastation...
Erin Joy Schmidt’s Karen can be tiresomely emphatic, but she’s not without courage...
The production aspects of the show are a mixed bag. Joseph Oshry’s eloquent lighting, Brian O’Keefe’s character-revealing costumes and Tom Shorrock’s emotive sound design strengthen the production. By contrast, Vincent Mountain’s bare-bones modular scenic design fades into the woodwork.
Dinner With Friends plays at Palm Beach DramaWorks through April 17, 2011.

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