Director Tod Sebens says the point of theater isn’t always to make audiences smile, or laugh, or to divert their attention from the realities of life; sometimes it’s intended to do the exact opposite.
That’s the case with “Dinner with Friends,” a 2000 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama directed by Sebens that will play at the Chilkat Center April 19-21.
“Dinner with Friends” tells the story of two married couples who have been friends many years. When Tom (Jono Greene) and Beth (Tara Bicknell) get a divorce after Tom is unfaithful, Gabe (Ashley Hilsinger) and Karen (Katrina Hotch) begin to examine their own marriage and the dynamics of their friendships with Tom and Beth.
Sebens said he chose the play because of its “fabulous dialogue” and blunt reality. “It’s a subject every adult can relate to in some way.”
“Even though I like musicals and I like comedies, I feel like sometimes Haines lacks in good dramas, and that’s what this is: it’s just a really good drama. People aren’t going to come out chipper and smiling. If they do, it’s because they’re saying, ‘Oh, that was so good.’ But it won’t be because it made them laugh,” he said.
Aside from examining the effects of divorce on a couple and the complex factors that contribute to such an event, the play also shines a light on the ripple effects on friends caught in the crossfire. “Do you still stay friends with both of them? With one of them? How do you relate to them after that?” are some of the questions addressed, Sebens said.
This is Bicknell’s first acting experience as an adult. She said some scenes have been challenging for their intensity. In one, Bicknell and Greene scream at each other, trading expletive-laden insults for several minutes.
“It’s a fight scene between two people who have been married for 12 years, but they’re going through this really hard time. And I have no experience with knowing somebody (for that long). It’s hard to try and imagine what it would feel like to be in that position,” Bicknell said.
Though none of the cast members are married, Bicknell said the characters still feel very familiar to everyone. That will leave audience members either nodding their heads or squirming in their seats, she said.
In addition to its challenging theme, the play also poses technical hurdles, Sebens said. Because “Dinner with Friends” is split into seven scenes, spanning different time periods and settings, Sebens had to create seven sets. To save time between scenes, several sets will be present on the stage at once. The relevant scene will be illuminated while the others remain in the shadows.
“The audience really shouldn’t see hardly any of the scene change. They just see a different scene get lit up,” Sebens said.
Two extensions, protruding over the stairways on both sides of the stage, were constructed to provide more room for the sets, Bicknell said. “It’s going to be cool. It’s going to look pretty active even though there are only four people in the cast,” she said.
Sebens emphasized the play is not recommended for ages under 18, due to profanity.
The Haines Middle School volleyball team will provide babysitting services for a fee.
Show times are 7 p.m. Friday, April 19, and Saturday, April 20, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 21. Tickets are $12 at the Babbling Book or at the door.