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Play with your food 

Dinner with Friends a top-quality theater experience

click to enlarge Alysabeth Clements and Mark Hennessy as Beth and Tom. - SUNNIE SACKS
  • Sunnie Sacks
  • Alysabeth Clements and Mark Hennessy as Beth and Tom.

For those of you in the habit of bemoaning the lack of East Coast, quality urban experiences, like fine dining and professional theater all within walking distance of your digs, burrow out of your holes and partake in the Dinner with Friends meal-and-a-show deal between the Star Bar Players and Sencha bistro. For 30 bucks, you can have a delicious prix fixe meal at Sencha with a salad, choice of three entrees and dessert, followed by a professional-class performance of "Dinner with Friends" just five blocks away at the Lon Chaney Theater.

Once again, The Star Bar Players have delivered. At the center of the four-person play are Karen and Gabe (Crystal Verdon and David Plambeck), a long-married couple with a couple of kids. They have a solid marriage, anchored by a mutual love of food and a captivation with the minutia of quotidian daily life. Their best friends are Beth and Tom (Alysabeth Clements and Mark Hennessy), who they introduced years before. In the first scene of the play, however, Beth divulges that Tom is leaving her for another woman, and the cozy world of the two couples is shattered.

Director Plambeck clearly understands that in such a domestic drama, less is more. With the exception of Tom's character, none of the actors move over the top as they unfold the traumas that are unreeling their middle-class, middle-aged lives. Thus, the way that a character eats his foods, twirls a glass of wine, or passes a hand across a brow becomes the most important action on the set and is, in its subtlety, riveting.

It is Plambeck himself, as actor, who is the most accomplished at this quiet desperation. His character appears completely transparent as if a middle-aged food critic from Connecticut had suddenly beamed down into Lon Chaney Theater and begun to live his life. Hennessy provides a nice contrast to Plambeck's almost phlegmatic persona, an effective vehicle for the character's middle-aged narcissism. The two women also play off of each other nicely, especially in the scene where they sit and discuss the history of their friendship, and the striking paleness of Clements and her newfound sexiness shine in contrast to the golden frumpiness of Verdon.

The real strength of this play, however, is the script. Playwright David Margulies won a Pulitzer Prize for his work, and no wonder. Whether your marriage is more comfortable and dull like Gabe and Karen's (and ripe for wonder of what might exist on the other side), or more tormented and confused like Beth and Tom's (and ripe for questioning whether life and children were a grand mistake), it is hard not to recognize oneself in the daily complaints, small triumphs or ugly scenes that Margulies has scripted. His sympathy for and skewering of marriage is precise and unflinching, and throughout the opening night's production you could see one audience member after another squirming in recognition.

It would be ideal to take advantage of this Sencha/Star Bars production with another couple. A nice dinner for four on the Sencha patio, a fine play, and a good excuse to go out for another bottle of wine to contemplate the meaning of friendship, of marriage, and of the daily rewards and challenges of growing older. Together and apart.

-- Andrea Lucard

capsule

Dinner With Friends

Lon Chaney Theater, 221 E. Kiowa St.

Saturday, May 29, Friday, June 4 and Saturday, June 5 at 8 p.m.

Sunday, June 6 at 2 p.m.

$15 / $12 students and seniors

Purchase the "Dinner With Your Friends Pass" for dinner at Sencha and admission to the play for $30.

For reservations, call 573-7411

Season tickets for next year will be on sale.

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