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Star Bar History: Dinner with Friends, 2004

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner gives audiences food for thought, reflection
The Gazette
 

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. 
  
The main 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 together.

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 ever written.

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 There Is?"

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 Mariachi bands.

Unfortunately, such events are the norm for this excellent community theater group.

-- Mark Arnest