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‘Friends’ packs heavy emotional punch

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DINNER WITH FRIENDS, Lees Main Stage, Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre; through Jan. 26, all seats reserved, box office: 581-6061. Running time: 2 hours (one intermission).

Over the past 12 years, Tom and Beth and Karen and Gabe have eaten a lot of dinners together.

Gabe and Tom have been friends since college, and Karen was the one who introduced her friend Beth to Gabe's friend Tom.

Not only have they eaten together, they've gone on family vacations together. Their kids are friends, too.

But all that is about to change because Tom and Beth are getting a divorce.

"Dinner With Friends" is really about no more dinners with those two sets of friends.

Even though the subject matter sounds simple, this play is powerful and complex. It grabs you from the first scene, when Karen and Gabe are chattering on about their trip to Italy, completely unaware that their friends' marriage is in shreds, while Beth sits at their table with heartbreak on her face.

Joyce Cohen plays Karen. She's a good cook, she's a loyal friend, but she's a little opinionated, a little bossy and judgmental.

Gabe, played by Craig Bockhorn, is the man who loves her. Or probably loves her. With Gabe, it's hard to tell. He goes mute when the conversation turns to relationships.

Deidre Madigan is Beth, the artist.

Her husband, Tom, played by Matt Loney, is leaving her for a travel agent. Beth is enraged, distraught — and Madigan acts these scenes with great verve. But none of that matters because Tom won't be dissuaded. He is leaving.

The finality of his decision is in stark contrast with the homey scenery. George Maxwell's set design and Peter Willardson's lighting — and even Joe Payne's sound design, with the offstage voices of the children — add poignancy to an already tender plot.

These four actors are pros. Theatergoers have seen all of them at PMT before. Donald Margulies' script puts each in the spotlight, in turns, and each knows what to do with it.

The subject matter is bleak — maybe too bleak for some. But here's a testimonial to how touching this production is: when the lights went up and the audience was leaving the theater, one couple stayed in their seats. They couldn't stop hugging each other long enough to walk out the door.

Sensitivity rating: Contains strong language and themes.


E-mail: susan@desnews.com