By MATT CRANE
For the characters in Starkville Community Theatre’s latest competition show “Dinner with Friends,” there is much more on their respective plates than lamb stew or chicken pomodoro.
Recently, director Kris Lee gathered the show’s cast and crew for a dinner party featuring dishes mentioned in Donald Margulies’s gripping script.
Lee said this play provided a great opportunity for hosting a dinner party not only for the food, but to create a deeper sense of community to the show’s story.
“Food is obviously very important to this script and it acts, in many ways as a metaphor on several levels,” he said. “I thought it’d be a good idea to taste the complexities in the dishes and, hopefully, use the cooking process as a springboard for character development.”
Lee said an exciting aspect of the production comes from the challenge of allowing the show’s simplicity to speak for itself.
“This is almost a conversation play, in a lot of ways, and it’s been very difficult to give that type of intimacy its own space to play with, especially when that space is a large stage and not a movie camera,” he said. “The actors have been wonderful in getting on board with this concept and taking their time to explore how ‘big’ small moments can actually be.”
Starring Thomas La Foe as Gabe, Krista Vowell as Karen, Christopher Walrath as Tom and Jonette Wilburn as Beth, the story of “Dinner with Friends” revolves around the lives of two married couples whose world must be reexamined when infidelity begins to affect the dynamics of old relationships.
Returning to Starkville to make her SCT debut, Wilburn said she has felt very relaxed throughout the rehearsal process and has enjoyed working with this cast for the first time.
“It feels really good to be back, because I haven’t done a show in three years,” she said. “I feel very welcomed and comfortable, and it’s turned into a little family.”
Wilburn said she has been able to get a lot of the rehearsal process thus far as she continues to connect with the character of Beth.
“I’ve found many connections with Beth, so it’s been cathartic going through these scenes,” she said. “It’s been a great release and I always feel very refreshed after I leave rehearsals.”
As this foursome continues to rehearse and fine-tune the production, La Foe said he has enjoyed figuring out his character’s voice and motivations.
“The rehearsals have been cool so far being able to figure out these characters and their relationships and where they’re coming from,” he said. “The characters are so natural that it’s easy to almost not act, but then you would lose that character’s personal perspective.”
Echoing La Foe’s sentiments about the play’s reality, Vowell said she has enjoyed the challenge of making these characters real for audiences.
“The story and these characters are so real,” she said. “I think that for an actor, when you’re doing something so real, that’s the challenge.”
With the show nearing its debut at the 2013 Mississippi Theatre Association festival in January, Walrath said his mind is not yet on the competition, but perfecting his performance for the audiences attending the show.
“It’s still just a performance and all that matters is the audience,” he said. “As long as the audience walks away pleased with what they’ve seen, I will feel good whether it’s being judged or not.”
Regardless of the outcome, Vowell said she and the cast are proud of the work they have already done, and is confident in SCT’s family of actors.
“SCT is good at what we do, in competition or not,” she said. “When there’s a competition ahead of you, it doesn’t make you nervous or scared. It makes you proud going into this saying, ‘This is what we have for you.’”
SCT will present a public performance of “Dinner with Friends” Thursday, Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the McComas Hall theater.
For more information about SCT, visit http://www.sct-online.org  or call the box office at 662-323-6855.