Basement Arts has earned its high esteem with drama lovers on campus by fearlessly promoting all kinds of theater, no matter how experimental. Oftentimes a safe haven for the out of bounds and out of this world, the basement of the Frieze building has nurtured student theater endeavors with an open mind and outstretched hand. This weekend, the legacy continues with a production of Donald Margulies” Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, “Dinner With Friends,” but the only daring strides this show makes will be in the minds of the audience members.
In many ways a more conventional show than most Basement Arts productions, “Dinner With Friends” is free from any new or experimental approaches and instead depends on witty dialogue and well-developed characters for its emotional punch. The story surrounds two married couples struggling to come to terms with the reality of middle age and long-term relationships over lemon-almond polenta cake. The infidelity that shatters Tom and Beth”s marriage also shatters best friends Gabe and Karen”s ideal image of their own marital bliss. Forced to reexamine their own lives and values, the four characters lead the way for an intellectual and emotional journey the audience will never forget.
Directed by LSA junior Thaura Henning and LSA freshman Jon Entis, the four-person cast has had to tackle the challenge of a script centered on divorce, a topic very far from the student consciousness. “At our age we”ve never felt anything like that before,” said RC sophomore and actress behind the role of Beth, Tori Shulman. “Aging yourself is always hard.”
But the directors were sensitive to such issues and organized rehearsals around overcoming those obstacles. “We talked a lot and used a lot of substitution,” said Henning. Substitution is the technique used by actors to transfer familiar feelings into the feelings they must display as a character.
The youth of the actors is not the only challenge of this script the youth of the expected audience also poses a problem, but not one the actors and directors are afraid to take on. They have no fear that college students in the audience will find it difficult to relate to the middle-aged characters. “These are issues in any relationship, not just marriage,” said LSA freshman Joanna Fetter. Shulman agreed, “Although it”s middle-aged, it”s very exciting and entertaining.”
LSA sophomore Ben Perry said of this weekend”s performances, “It would be nice to hear people talking afterwards.” And following a show that poses such personal and intriguing questions about conventional love and monogamy, there should be no shortage of conversation. With all of this cerebral controversy, perhaps “Dinner With Friends” does indeed follow in the daring Basement Arts footsteps after all.