Dinner with Friends

by Donald Margulies

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Critical Overview

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Margulies' Dinner with Friends won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in the year 2000. This would make one think that it was greeted with critical applause in every published account. Although most critics praised the play, mostly because they like Margulies' writing, they do not all think that it is his best work.

Los Angeles Times critic Michael Phillips says that although Dinner with Friends might not be as distinctive as some of Margulies' past work, it is "a lively, witty and finally bittersweet question in the form of a two-act comedy-drama." The question that Phillips is referring to is, "How do any two people keep it together9''

This question (and its subsequent answer, if any) could be viewed, as some critics have viewed it, as a mundane topic for a play. But John Simon in the New York Magazine believes that"Margulies is a master of observing what might seem old hat with fresh eyes, hearing it with fresh ears." Simon describes some of the lines in the play as"funny... with an underscoring of wistfulness." Critic David Sheward in Back Stage seems to agree, as he calls the play a "sharply written comedy-drama." Sheward continues by defining Margulies as a playwright who "refuses to go for easy answers ... By unstmtingly presenting all sides of this domestic explosion... he goes beyond sitcom and soap opera to true theatrical insight into how marriage and friendship really work." On the other side, critic Frank Scheck in Hollywood Reporter slightly disagrees. The play doesn't dig deep enough, says Scheck. However, Scheck does qualify his criticism by continuing that the play does contain "moments that resonate with humor and poignancy.''

At the website"NYtheatre.com,'' critic Martin Denton. believes that Margulies "has written the play of his generation, a drama that taps into the collective psyches of those of us who came of age in the '70s." Although Denton also agrees that the material that Margulies covers in this play is"scary territory ... because it is so familiar," he praises Marguhes' writing for its bluntness and honesty. "This is the world," Denton continues, "Margulies exposes... and he lets it fester before our eyes like an uncautenzed wound. He is showing us the rampant destructiveness that is our age's central tragedy. It's not pretty."

Continuing with a similar suggestion that the play has a familiar theme (a suggestion made by most of the reviewers), Michael Feingold in the Village Voice writes, "even when he [Margulies] tackles an old familiar tale, you can count on him to tell it differently.... Even at the end, where Margulies arranges his ironies a little too tidily, they aren't the usual ironies, and some of his omissions are as striking as the points he emphasizes in drawing what's almost too complex to be called his moral." And finally, there is critic Donald Lyons from the New York Post, who sums it all up. Lyons states,"The critic Eric Bentley once accused Paddy Chayefsky of 'writing his audience,' telling people what they want to hear. Margulies, with all his talent, does that, also.. . [TJhere's a sense of issues being sliced up too schematically and comfortably, But it's churlish to complain about a play and a production so full of life, warmth, laughs and wisdom."

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