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Powerhouse acting quartet has ‘Dinner with Friends’

Donald Margulies hit a home run, and a Pulitzer Prize, with his 1998 play “Dinner with Friends.” It’s a simple play, about everyday people, dealing with the consequences of infidelity. It’s not melodramatic. It’s not poetic. Like its four characters — two married couples attached at the hip and shared vacation rental house — it’s common, ordinary and recognizable.

Katie Mallinson directs a clean and sophisticated production of Margulies’s tale at Road Less Traveled Theater. Her ensemble is perfectly cast, a tight group of not-quite-middle-agers clinging for direction as they slip out of youthful abandon and fall into routine adulthood.

It capably passes the torch set into motion by “thirtysomething,” the 1980s TV drama about married friends that spawned, if nothing else, a now universal nickname for an entire kind of generation (far more successful in its definition than “millennial,” that’s for sure). That show and this play are set in very different eras, but pose similar questions about commitment, identity and tolerance for pain.

Mallinson’s direction sits closely to Margulies’s text, the intentionality of his syntax, pacing and phrasing; her experience as a dramaturg shines in this capacity. It also means that, at times, her actors hug the language so much that they exist just outside of their reality — the words, and not the character, become the actor. This is not a constant concern, only in moments, but it’s there; it’s also likely to coalesce as the run continues.

Another concern is Dyan Burlingame’s sharply angled set, which while positioned with an editorial skew, pushes the action too far upstage, swallowing the actors’ voices and sightlines. John Rickus’s lights are impeccable at every turn.

This production belongs to the cast. Dave Hayes, Kelly Meg Brennan, Lisa Vitrano and Philip Farugia are a powerhouse. Each plays a most articulate version of the kinds of roles in which they are often cast, and carry those archetypes right over the finish line. It’s as if they were born to play these roles, and are here being birthed. This isn’t a statement on the personalities of these actors, to be clear. But parts being what they are, everyone has a type.

Brennan holds on tight to her character’s suppressed anger but loses grip so gracefully. Hayes measures the simmering complexities in being an American everyman. Vitrano gloriously bathes in her character’s self-concern, a ticking time bomb of fun and disaster. And Farugia — you gotta love him — is the jerk you can’t help but to love and argue with. They steal this show and make a run for it. Margulies’s portraits of insecurity, infidelity and identity being what they are, you might run away with them, too.

THEATER REVIEW

3.5 stars out of 4

“Dinner with Friends”

Drama by Donald Margulies through Oct. 2 at Road Less Traveled Theater, 500 Pearl St. Tickets are $35 general admission, $20 students. Call 629-3069 or visit roadlesstraveledproductions.org

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