In Dinner With Friends, currently running at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, Tom, a lawyer who frequently travels for work, is having an affair with a travel agent. When he admits this to his wife Beth, mother of their two children, they decide to split. As they separate their lives, their two best friends — an outwardly perfect couple — are divvied like assets, and eventually those two question their life choices as well.
Donald Margulies' drama won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize, and the show explores the anxieties inherent in long-term commitments and marital routine. While Tom (Eddie Simon) is supposed to be on a business trip, Beth (Liz Launey) discusses their separation with their friends Gabe (Leon Contavesprie) and Karen (Chelle Duke). When Tom learns she had this conversation without him, he accuses Beth of "tainting" their friends with her version of the story. His reaction seems unjustified, given his infidelity, but many problems from their 12-year marriage are revealed.
At first, Beth is furious with Tom, but the two still have sex occasionally. Launey embodies Beth's insecurities as she boils over in crying fits. Though Tom is set up to be the bad guy, Simon's earnest and nuanced performance helps Tom work toward redemption. Tom says Beth had stopped touching him — even holding his hand — so he had started to feel small. "I hope you never know the loneliness I've known," he tells Gabe, who tries to convince him to reconcile with Beth for the sake of the couple's children.
Tom's affair also rocks their friends, who introduced the couple a decade earlier. Gabe and Karen are supportive and genuinely like each other, which seems like an ideal marriage. Karen has her life together, and Duke is hilarious as the meddling friend. Duke turns well-intentioned missteps into pure comedy. Gabe is mostly the straight man, and he clings to his wife and their routine. Contavesprie infuses him with a boyishness that makes him believable in his earnestness.
Directed by Rene J.F. Piazza, Dinner with Friends can be uncomfortable to watch because the characters feel real. They're normal people dealing with lost love in middle age, and strong acting makes them seem like longtime friends. The play is largely centered on unpacking and processing their feelings as they face change and uncertainty. Such reflection could easily bog down the action, but bits of humor, including subtle sexual innuendo and ironic turns of phrase, give the show necessary moments of release.
The impact reaches far beyond Tom and Beth's relationship, and Karen and Gabe have their own reckoning to face. It's all complicated and the conclusion is difficult to predict. Dinner with Friends is a thought-provoking exploration of modern relationships with a good amount of laughs along the way.