Friday, August 8, 2008

Play of the Week: Dinner with Friends

Why do playwrights feel the need to explain their works? Donald Margulies gives a very lengthy author's note in the appendix of his play Dinner with Friends explaining how the characters should be played. If he had been trying a new form of theatre that needed a little perspective to get the artist started, then an author's note is extremely helpful. But this is your standard drama about two couples facing marital problems. Does he not feel that the actors and directors are smart enough to interpret his script?

Playwrights need to take responsibility about what they have written. If they do not feel secure that their play will be accurately represented on stage, it's probably not the fault of the performers. They are only interpreting what the playwright has written. Actors can only play what is one the page. If they don't "get it," the majority of the time is because it is not clearly presented on the page.

Theatre is a collaborative art. It does not happen until actors stand up in front of an audience. A playwright can publish all of the plays he or she wants, but until they are performed it is not actual theatre. In the process of collaboration there is always interpretation - from the playwright to director, director to actors, and actor to audience. As an artist and a writer, if you want complete control over your work, stick to literature, because the live performers will always get something wrong, no matter how much you try to specify your intents in an author's note.

This play, however, is brilliantly written. It explores two marriages - one falling apart in an affair and divorce and the other reexamining itself through the lens of their friend's problems. The play is devastatingly stark and honest. Margulies does not try to sugar coat anything. The most uncomfortable thing you start to realize is all of this could have been worse. Each relationship could have crashed and burned in a much more painful way, however, everyone likes each other enough to work together towards happiness, even if it means moving away from a long held friendship.

This week, find a copy of Dinner with Friends, and start by reading the play - you will enjoy it. Then read the author's note and think about how it is different or similar to your perception of the play. Remember that your perception is not wrong - you are simply reacting to what the author has written bringing your life experience to bear. What does that mean about the meaning of the play? The author does not ascribe meaning - you do. What does this play mean to you?

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