The Earth Cracks Open

August is Summer Reading Month in Daily Nutmeg, and Donald Margulies, photographed above by Dan Mims, is this week’s featured author. Please enjoy this excerpt from Margulies’s play Dinner with Friends (Dramatists Play Service, 1998).

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Scene 3
Gabe and Karen’s house… Gabe and Karen are on the sofa, finishing off a bottle of wine. Their banter is edgy but always affectionate.

KAREN. Beth and Tom.
GABE. I know.
KAREN. Of all the couples we know…
GABE. I know.
KAREN. Oh, God, Gabe, we introduced them.
GABE. God, you’re right. (They sit in silence, each lost in thought. They shake their heads, sip their wine.)
KAREN. (Re: the wine.) What do you think of the Shiraz?
GABE. Astringent.
KAREN. Uh huh, I think so, too. (A beat.) Can you imagine what that would be like? You spend your entire adult life with someone, and it turns out that that person, the one person you completely entrusted your fate to, is an impostor?! Can you imagine?
GABE. Now, wait a minute, we don’t know the whole story.
KAREN. What is there to know? He was duplicitous; he cheated on her.
GABE. (Over “…on her.”) Yeah, yeah, but it can’t be as simple as that, Karen, you know that. It never is.
KAREN. That snake.
GABE. Honey. You’re talking about someone who up until like two hours ago you thought was salt-of-the-earth!
KAREN. I know; I was wrong. I can’t believe I could’ve been so wrong about a person. Have I ever been so wrong about someone? God, what does this say about my judgment?
GABE. Karen, come on, he’s the same person you’ve known and loved for years.

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KAREN. No, he’s not; he couldn’t be. I’m beginning to think he was never that person.
GABE. Honey…
KAREN. Maybe he never existed at all.
GABE. Come on…
KAREN. Maybe he was a figment of our collective imagination. He’s very seductive, your friend. He had us convinced he was true blue. He really did. What a simpatico guy: decent, loving, hard-working, a good father…
GABE. He is all those things. So he made a transgression…
KAREN. A transgression?!
GABE. (Continuous.) It’s still the same old Tom…
KAREN. This is more than a mere transgression! How could I ever look him in the eye again? I can’t. After what he’s done to Beth and the kids…?
GABE. So, what do we do, abandon him? He’s my oldest friend!
KAREN. (Over “He’s my oldest friend!”) I don’t expect you to do anything. Do whatever you want. I’m saying, I can’t look at him anymore.
GABE. Maybe he’s really in trouble. Maybe he is. What kind of friends would we be if we went ahead and punished him? I’ve got a feeling Beth is doing a pretty damn good job punishing him herself.
KAREN. She is the injured party…
GABE. So, what does that mean, she’s the injured party, so we can only stay friends with her?
KAREN. I’m telling you I can’t be friends with him anymore; you can be friends with whomever you like; as far as I’m concerned, someone who conducts his life like this is not to be trusted.
GABE. You are so strict.
KAREN. I am not “strict.”—I resent that, that’s one of those words…
GABE. Okay; I’m sorry.
KAREN. (Continuous.) I’m principled. You can’t fault me for being principled…
GABE. But doesn’t forgiveness enter into it for you, or are you too principled for that?
KAREN. Some things are not forgivable; this is not forgivable.
GABE. Boy…
KAREN. (Continuous.) That’s too easy. I’m sorry: Actions have consequences.
GABE. Remind me not to get on your bad side.
KAREN. You do something like this, I’m telling you right now, you are outta here.
GABE. Really?
KAREN. You better believe it. None of that sleeping-in-the-den shit.
GABE. It’s for the kids’ sake; that’s what she said; I can understand that.
KAREN. If he’s gonna decimate his family, he doesn’t deserve to sleep under the same roof, I’m sorry.
GABE. But it’s for the kids!
KAREN. That’s a privilege; he’s lost that privilege.
GABE. Wow. You are really tough.
KAREN. Don’t be facetious! There has got to be a price for doing what he did; this neither/nor situation just won’t do. I don’t know how she can tolerate that! I would just throw him the hell out.
GABE. So, if in a moment of weakness, I sleep with a check-out girl or something, and am foolish enough to confess to you and beg for your forgiveness, you’d tell me, what, to go fuck myself?
KAREN. That’s right.
GABE. You mean we couldn’t still be friends?
KAREN. No way. Are you kidding?
GABE. You mean we wouldn’t even be civil with one another? (She shakes her head as if to say, What are you crazy?) At least now I know where you stand.
KAREN. As if you had any doubt. (She pulls him closer; he rests his head on her lap.)
GABE. The thing is, you never know what couples are like when they’re alone; you never do. You know that: There’s no way of knowing. It’s all very mysterious.
KAREN. There goes the Vineyard.
GABE. Oh, God, you’re right. How would we work that?
KAREN. We couldn’t. What, we’d have Beth come with the kids for two weeks, then she would go and Tom would take over? That’s ridiculous.
GABE. It sounds awful.
KAREN. What a mess.
GABE. It’s like a death, isn’t it? (She nods. Pause.)
KAREN. Why were you so quiet tonight?
GABE. What? What do you mean?
KAREN. When Beth was telling us. You were so silent.
GABE. I wasn’t silent. I was shocked, I was stunned.
KAREN. You let me do most of the talking.
GABE. That’s not unusual. (She swats at him.) Hey! No, I mean it, you do do most of the talking.
KAREN. I do not.
GABE. Yes you do. You generally have more to say on any given subject than I do. That’s why we work well together: You talk, I write, you edit me.
KAREN. You’re evading.
GABE. No, I’m not. Evading what?
KAREN. I think what Beth was telling us… I think it was very hard for you.
GABE. Of course it was hard. No one wants to hear about his closest friends going through something like this.
KAREN. (Over “…like this.”) No, no, that’s not what I mean. Don’t get defensive. It’s just, I think, all this…marital talk… It’s too close to home. I think it made you very uncomfortable.
GABE. Made me uncomfortable?
GABE. Well, like I said, it’s not the most pleasant of topics.
KAREN. Don’t play dumb with me, Gabe.
GABE. What?!
KAREN. You’re playing dumb.
GABE. (Incensed, he moves away.) No, I’m not, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
KAREN. You do that, you know, whenever I want you to talk to me about something like this, something important…
GABE. Oh, great, you trying to pick a fight with me, or what?
KAREN. (Over “…or what?”; wearily.) No, Gabe…
GABE. What do you want me to say? That this whole thing scares the shit out of me?
GABE. Well, it does. Okay?
KAREN. It does me, too. You think you’re safe, on solid ground, then all of a sudden the earth cracks open. (Headlights appear through the windows; a car pulls into the snowy driveway.)
GABE. Who the hell is that? (Peers out.) Oh, shit, you’re not gonna believe this, I think it’s Tom.

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Dinner with Friends
by Donald Margulies
Dramatists Play Service, 1998
Where to buy: Dramatists Play Service | Audible | Amazon

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