Donald Margulies' play Dinner with Friends was written, he says, like all his works, "to reflect observations I'm having at that time in my life ... All around us, relationships are changing, marriages are breaking up. It's those notions of impermanence, the yearning for something else that I'm tapping into.'' And it appears that Margulies has also tapped into audiences all over the country and now all over the world as his play enjoys international success.
Dinner with Friends began as a commissioned work for the Actors Theater of Louisville and had its world premiere at the 1998 Humana Festival of New American Plays. It then played in California's South Coast Repertory and, quite unusually, in Paris before opening off Broadway in New York in 1999. In 2000, it won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for drama. Currently, there continue to be simultaneous productions all over the country, and a made-for-television movie is in the making. So just what is so appealing about the notion of impermanence and the yearning for something else that makes this play so universally popular? That's simple. Everyone relates to these themes. As critic Michael Phillips noted, Dinner with Friends has become"a. Zeitgeist pop culture item'' like the movie The Big Chill was in the early 1980s. Phillips says that the audience identifies so much with the characters that "watching this show in performance is like attending a mass nodding seminar." And Phillips doesn'tmean that the audience is falling asleep. On the contrary, they are nodding their heads in agreement and laughing in recognition
Whether members of the audience can relate to the forty-something couples who come of age in the radical seventies, become parents under the Reagan administration, and then either solidify or lose touch with their long-term relationships, the play exposes the same, universal insecurities that people face every time there are shattering changes in their lives. Marguhes' characters are real. They are normal. They are family, friends, and the people next door. They are people facing their fears.