Northwest NEWS

June 18, 2001


ACT's 'Dinner with Friends' is excellent food for thought

by Deborah Stone
   ACT continues its mainstage season with the Northwest premiere of Donald Margulies' Pulitzer Prize winning drama, "Dinner with Friends."
   Directed by ACT artistic director Gordon Edelstein, "Dinner with Friends" attacks the subject of marriage and friendship with humor, warmth and a few painful truths. Two seemingly happily married couples have been a big part of each other's lives over the years, sharing dinners, vacations and the joys and woes of parenting.
   The impending separation of one of the couples suddenly drops like a bombshell on their best friends, leaving them with questions about their own relationship. The four friends struggle to examine the issues of commitment, fidelity, love and the depths of friendship, in this convincing and revealing portrait of modern marriage.
   Gabe (John Procaccino) and his wife, Karen (Janet Zarish) are a content suburban couple with two young children, living the typical yuppie life. They are food writers and apprecianados of gourmet cooking, whipping up endless delights for yet another meal with their culinary impeded dear friends, Tom (Mark Chamberlin) and Karen (Kristin Flanders).
   At one such dinner, when Mark is "out of town," Karen suddenly breaks down and reveals that Mark, her husband of 12 years, is leaving her and their children for another woman.
   The effects of this confession on Gabe and Karen are explosive and suddenly doubts are cast on their "perfect" marriage. They discover that Mark and Karen's relationship has been stormy for years, rife with frustration and dark secrets. As Mark attempts to present his version of the situation, the question for both Gabe and Karen is, whom should they side with in this ugly mess?
   The couple's faith and belief in their own union are shaken, as they confront new realities and compare hopes and dreams with unfulfilled expectations. Procaccino masterfully portrays a man with midlife confusions, presented with a series of painful questions that he knows have no easy answers.
   His talents as an actor lie in his ability to play his roles with naturalness and credibility. He makes audiences believe in the authenticity of his character and the range of emotions he experiences.
   Janet Zarish deftly plays Karen, the perfect wife, mother and friend, but as the story unravels, she shows how doubts and insecurities eat away at this demeanor, leaving a woman confronted with her own limitations.
   Flanders' Beth is a flighty, artistic type, who lacks self-confidence. As her life changes, so does she, ultimately demonstrating strength and the willingness to be honest with herself and others. Chamberlin takes to the difficult role of Tom, the self-centered jerk, with relish. His despicableness is most evident, but beneath that, there is an explanation for his actions that audiences, with open minds, will search to understand.
   "Dinner with Friends" is a sophisticated, rueful comedy-drama that excavates some uncomfortable terrain with candor and intelligence. The show runs through July 1. For ticket information, call (206) 292-7676.