Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 659
A two-act play, Dinner with Friends intertwines the lives of Gabe and Karen, food writers, and their close friends Tom and his wife Beth. Act 1 opens over dinner in Gabe and Karen’s kitchen on a snowy evening in Connecticut. Tom is away on business, and Beth sits quietly as Gabe and Karen animatedly describe their recent excursion to Italy. In between descriptions of the old Italian cook and her pasta pomodoro, and shouts from the children upstairs, the scene is one of warm, if somewhat fussy, banter about food and travel. Beth soon dissolves into tears and informs the distressed couple that her husband has had an affair and wants a divorce. The scene concludes as Beth prepares to leave, but not without sampling dessert.
The scene shifts to Tom and Beth’s cluttered bedroom, where Beth prepares for bed. Tom enters, apologizing for the intrusion. Beth confesses that she divulged their marital troubles. Furious, Tom accuses Beth of biasing their friends against him. Each angrily reminds the other of past injuries. The argument turns violent when Beth slaps Tom, and Tom throws Beth onto the bed, pinning her there. However, the violence arouses both, and the scene ends with lovemaking.
Later that evening snuggling on the sofa, Gabe and Karen discuss how Karen would have responded if Gabe had been unfaithful. Headlights appear through the window. Tom enters and asks for a fair hearing, but Karen refuses to listen and leaves the room. Over leftovers and wine, Gabe tries to offer advice, but Tom does not want it. “My head is spinning with shoulds and shouldn’ts,” says Tom. “It may be news to you but I’ve been living with this for a long time.” Frustrated, Tom leaves Gabe, who sits pensively as the act ends.
Act 2 begins twelve and one-half years earlier on Martha’s Vineyard. Newlyweds Gabe and Karen are preparing dinner for Tom and Beth, having arranged a “date” for their friends, who have not yet met. Once the guests have arrived, Tom attempts to make conversation, bringing up his long friendship with Gabe. Karen touts Beth’s skill as an artist, and Tom, who finds Beth attractive, tries to snatch her sketchbook. This sudden intimacy makes Beth uncomfortable, so she tries her hand at cutting scallions. Unfortunately, Beth cuts her finger. As the scene concludes, Tom gallantly bandages it and they notice a mutual attraction.
The play returns to the present. Several months have passed since the breakup. Over lunch, Beth tells Karen that she is planning to marry a lawyer from Tom’s firm. Karen urges Beth to slow down. Beth explodes, not in anger but in release. “You need me to be a mess; you’re invested in it. Every Karen needs a Beth.” Meanwhile, Gabe meets Tom in a Manhattan bar. Free from the ties of family, Tom’s extramarital relationship has invigorated his sex life. Gabe confesses that Tom sounds like a stranger to him. Tom maintains that while his marriage was a lie his friendship with Gabe and Karen was real. To Gabe, Tom’s decision has hurt them all. As the scene concludes, Gabe learns that Beth had an affair ten years earlier with the lawyer that she is currently seeing. Tom leaves and Gabe knows he’ll never see his friend again.
Later that night, in the summer home on Martha’s Vineyard, Gabe and Karen engage in a practiced bedtime ritual as they discuss their conversations with Tom and Beth. Shaken by the change in her friends, Karen wonders why Gabe seems unable to articulate his feelings about their own marriage. Her frustration builds until Gabe stumbles incoherently onto the truth. He misses the passion of their youth. What has happened to them is “what happens when practical matters . . . begin to outweigh . . . abandon.” Deeply saddened by this discovery, Karen wonders, “How do we not get lost?” They hold each other as the...
(The entire section contains 2492 words.)
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