How does the passage of time affect friendships and relationships? How do people change as they’re battered and buoyed by life’s challenges?
Director Rene J.F. Piazza explores those questions in the Pultizer-winning play “Dinner With Friends.”
Piazza first produced this Pulitzer Prize-winning drama when he inaugurated his now defunct theater company, Actor’s Theatre. That was 10 years ago, when the play’s run was disrupted by Hurricane Katrina.
Five years later, Piazza mounted the play again to celebrate his theater company’s fifth anniversary.
Now at Le Petit Theatre, he’s reprising it yet again starting on Friday, March 20.
Once again on the journey with Piazza are cast members Chelle Duke and Leon Contavesprie, who were in the previous two productions as well.
“It has been terrific and eye opening at the same time,” Contavesprie said about his third time playing the character of Gabe. “Chelle Duke, who is playing Karen, and I have done the show before but that was many years ago, when we were both in our early 30s.
“Now that we’re all in our mid-40s, the story has so much more resonance and personal meaning. We’ve experienced a good bit of what the characters have gone through, so it’s just deepened the relationship of our characters. Every night in rehearsal we discover something that we hadn’t before. That aspect alone is a lot of fun. ”
Gabe and Karen are a pair of food writers who more than a decade ago introduced their close friends Tom and Beth to each another.
Tom and Beth fell in love and got married, but one night as Gabe and Karen are making dinner, they receive startling news from Beth: Tom has left her for another woman, and the two are filing for divorce.
In “Dinner With Friends,” playwright Donald Margulies examines the lives of two marriages through a series of gourmet meals shared in a comfortable Connecticut eat-in kitchen. Most of the play’s seven scenes include the making, eating, and especially the discussing of delicious food.
Over the course of the play, we see both couples at different ages and stages of their lives, and we experience the effects of Tom and Beth’s breakup on Gabe and Karen, who first feel as though they must choose sides. Then they begin to question the strength of their own marriage and are jolted by their discoveries into their love and lives.
“Dinner With Friends” received the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was originally commissioned by Actors Theatre of Louisville, where it had its world premiere at the 1998 Humana Festival of New American Plays.
Additionally, in 2001 the play was made into an Emmy Award-nominated film for HBO starring Dennis Quaid and Andie MacDowell. Over the past decade, Donald Margulies has written some of the most insightful works in contemporary American drama.
His body of work includes “The Loman Family Picnic,” “Sight Unseen,” “The Model Apartment” and “Collected Stories.”
The play not only looks at divorce and all of its many ramifications, but it explores all the challenges and rewards of how one either plunges or eases into those formidable middle age years.
Margulies’ characters are real, normal and relatable. They are your brother’s family, your best friends from college, or the people who live across the street.
Piazza intends to draw upon his diverse theatrical experience as an actor, director, playwright and set designer to take full advantage of Le Petit’s historic stage.
He said he wants to enhance the scenery and lighting elements from his previous work on the show to further dramatize the script.
“This is one of those great ‘conversation starter’ plays” Contavesprie said. “After the show is over every night, I guarantee people will be having perhaps even heated discussions about what they just witnessed — who was right, who was wrong, should sides have been taken, etc. They’ll even talk about how much they laughed. Margulies’ writing is the perfect balance of humor, passion, fury and of course, love.”