Daily Pilot

On Theater: A dramatic 'Dinner With Friends' in Costa Mesa

By Tom Titus

JULY 27, 2017, 4:00PM

Relationships are fragile entities, requiring the smooth, uncluttered interaction of both parties involved, which seems to be why about half of them eventually crumble. And, incidentally, why they provide such fertile ground for dramatists.

Donald Margulies, who wrote such compelling plays as "Sight Unseen" and "Collected Stories," captured this emotional dynamic beautifully in 1998 with his Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "Dinner With Friends," an examination of two marriages – one calm and steady, the other fragile and volatile. It was the most involving treatise on the subject since Reginald Rose's teleplay "Dear Friends" a few decades before.

The Costa Mesa Playhouse has revived Margulies' play with a special touch – the director and all four cast members are the same five people who combined to offer the brilliant staging of "God of Carnage" in the same theater three years ago. Excellence is both anticipated and realized.

Director Michael Serna, who also designed the multiple settings, delivers again with his personal repertory company – Michelle D. Pedersen and Peter Hilton as the stable couple, Angel Correa and Jordana Oberman as the squabbling pair. It's a case of two marriages made in theatrical heaven.

The playwright elected to reverse a common dramatic process. Rather than build the action toward a visceral climax, he brought out the heavy artillery in his first two scenes, then calmed things down for the balance of the play. It's in these first two segments that Correa and Oberman flex their interpretive muscles.

Correa is MIA at a dinner thrown by the other couple for him and Oberman,who eventually breaks down and confesses that their marriage is on the rocks. Then the pair meet unexpectedly for a vicious, vitriol-spewing battle with an even more unexpected climax. Both actors are superb in this highly demanding scene.

As the more placid couple, Pedersen and Hilton excel at attempting to repair their damaged friends' relationship without being scarred by the fallout. They reveal human weaknesses, sometimes seemingly for dramatic convenience, but remain steadfast in their commitment to one another.

The play's seven different scenes call for minimal settings, which are offered in all but one sequence – a flashback moment when Correa's and Oberman's characters – a steely lawyer and a flaky artist – first meet, introduced by the other two. Here we have a fully detailed (and brightly lit in contrast to the others) backdrop representing happier times.

The balance of "Dinner With Friends" deals with the aftermath of the divorce as Pedersen attempts to console Oberman and Hilton seeks to calm Correa, basically trying to retain both as friends. All four exhibit human, recognizable traits in their dialogue, and Serna employs full measures of dramatic silence for punctuation.

"Dinner With Friends" has been absent from local stages since South Coast Repertory introduced it back in 1999. This "Dinner" is a substantial repast both appetizing and ultimately filling at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater.

If You Go

What: Dinner With Friends

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 611 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa

Cost: $18 to $20

Information: (949) 650-5269 or visit