“Dinner with Friends” is a Feast for the Playgoer

Part l: Overview and reaction to the play; the venue; director’s comments; about InHouse Theatre; and recommendation Part 2: Synopsis of action of play; actors’ comments on their characters and the production; and concluding remarks.

Part l:

Deepak Chopra says, “In its finest moments, art offers a mirror into the soul.” This quote aptly applies to the InHouse Theatre’s unique and engrossing production of Donald Margulies’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Dinner with Friends,” currently running in Los Angeles. 

A pleasant dinner among old friends leads to a shocking revelation which in turn leads to personal dilemmas for two couples. Complicating matters, long held feelings, which can no longer be suppressed, come to the surface in dramatic fashion, with skillfully sprinkled comic moments, and place each of the four characters at odds with the other three. Thus, each character is placed in multiple quandaries vis-a-vis his/her value system and personal aims, all of which makes for a great play.

This four-way onslaught of human emotions is poignantly and powerfully portrayed by actors Caroline Morahan, Dylan Ramsey, Renee Threatte, and Tim Redmond, under the subtle and skillful direction of Drew Rausch. Each actor magnificently captures the particular flavor and aroma of his/her character through the twists and turns of ever-evolving relationships.

What sets this production apart is its novel style of presentation. The venue for the play was The Moncado Mansion, a 7,000 square foot house which has been designated as a Historic-Cultural Monument by the city of Los Angeles. Each scene of the play takes place in a different room of the house, so the audience moves with the actors as each scenario develops; this constant near-direct contact in varying environments enhances the playgoer’s involvement with and understanding of the characters. Indeed, one is a true and intimate observer here and that proves to be a most moving theatre -going experience. Moving around this 112 year old edifice, the former residence of Filipino political activist Hilario Camino Moncado and the headquarters of the Filipino Federation of America for the last 70 years, is a delightful experience in itself.

Director Drew Rausch, in an interview with FVM Global Magazine, offered some highly insightful remarks about the play and the evening’s performance. InHouse Theatre selected this play because every actor who has studied theatre in the last two decades has done scenes from it, and this was a chance to not only put the whole play together but also convey it in the iconoclastic format conceived by the group. Rausch visualizes the play as a series of journeys taken by four heroes who must face their fears and find happiness in ways they think are right for them, realizing along the way the adverse effects on seemingly solid relationships from the past. The different tracks to happiness selected become divergent and create chasms between individuals which may not be traversable. Rausch uses a flashback to 12 years ago in the middle of the play to emphasize how relationships grow and change and how expectations from relationships must be redefined. In Rausch’s view, what the characters don’t do is just as important as what they do. Needless to say, the play ends with questions rather than answers, leaving the viewer with much to contemplate about the futures of the characters, and, for that matter, his or her own life. The director, reflecting the mission of InHouse Theatre, describes the production as immersive, site-specific, environmental theatre, intended to bring the realism of film acting to the intimate live theatre experience. He takes great delight in the fact that we in the audience are sitting in the middle of each relationship and that we are live and present and feeling the electricity of each emotion, feeling it in a way we do not experience from either film or traditional theatre.

In another interview, Elizabeth Schmidt, co-founder of InHouse Theatre, provided information about the history and philosophy of the group. The members met in acting class and, having done numerous scenes with each other and having found great joy and personal enlightenment from these experiences, decided to continue acting together. So, they formed an acting company, but with a mission as previously described above by Drew Rausch. The group has now brought five productions to life, and each has been innovative and magical in conception, with enthusiastic reception from the audience.

Their current production, “Dinner with Friends,” is simply not to be missed by the discriminating playgoer. Warning: One does not just go to this play, one is literally submerged in it! Summa cum laude!

Coming soon: Part 2