Dinner gives audiences food for
Seeing Dinner With Friends, the Star
Bar Players' excellent new production, is a little like having
dinner with friends.
Mind you, these may not be your favorite
friends - although Crystal Verdon and David Plambeck as Karen and
Gabe make as quietly appealing a stage couple as has appeared in
Colorado Springs in a long time.
No, the friends in Donald Margulies'
Pulitzer-Prize-winning character study have been through thick and
thin together. They're the friends you love dearly even though you
no longer have much in common.
action of Dinner With Friends occurs before the play begins: Tom has
left Beth. The first thing we see is Karen and Gabe excitedly
describing their trip to Italy to a distracted Beth, who hasn't yet
told her best friends.
The play's strength is its honest, realistic
characterization and - aside from a thuddingly contrived dream near
the end - believable and even hilarious dialogue. Here, it's brought
to life by a strong cast in which Plambeck directs as well as acts.
The more judgmental Karen becomes, the most
accommodating Gabe gets - or is she reacting to him? What's amazing
about Verdon and Plambeck in these roles in that nothing seems
amazing. Their interaction has the natural fit of a pair of old
shoes, especially in the opening and closing scenes, which convey
the impression of a long, pleasant and relatively frictionless life
In contrast, "naturalness" is not a word that
applies to the relationship between Alysabeth Clements and Mark
Hennessy as Beth and Tom. She's prickly and evasive; he's
self-righteous, self-absorbed and any number of other hyphenated
terms beginning with "self." Their relationship - what we see of it,
in a brilliantly realized fight scene - suggest nothing so much as
cobra and mongoose.
Even the end of a marriage that was probably
a mistake in the first place, though, has enormous consequences on
the various friendships. "It's like a death, isn't it?" Gabe asks.
Margulies takes what easily could be a
collection of clichés voiced by a group of stereotypes and creates
something fresh, compelling and believable. Instead of creating
complex characters, he creates relatively simple characters and
allows complexity to flow naturally from their relationships.
Be forewarned: The play's accuracy and
insight into human relationships make it one of the worst date plays
To those what haven't experienced marriage,
even Gabe and Karen will seem like delusional, rationalizing
compromisers, their marriage a duet to the tune of "Is That All
Those of us who know better - or are at least
determined not to admit our rationalizations and delusions, even to
ourselves - will see our friends, and ourselves, affectionately
recreated on stage.
Meanwhile, at the end of another strong
season, the Star Bar Players remain the Colorado Springs' theater
scene's answer to Rodney Dangerfield.
No respect at all.
Opening night was marred by a fashion show
rehearsal in the nearby auditorium (although the extraneous noise
actually went well with Tom and Gabe's bar scene). One of last
week's performances had to be rescheduled because of a Battle of the
Unfortunately, such events are the norm for
this excellent community theater group.
-- Mark Arnest