Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Marie and Bruce: Time to Rethink the Relationship

Marisa Tomei and Frank Whaley give two excellent performances in the revival of Marie and Bruce at Theater Row Theaters on 42nd Street. Unfortunately, the good news ends about there. Marie and Bruce is a tough slog of a play to watch, one in which each of the title characters is either occasionally or consistently horrible.

The show is divided into three parts; in the first Marie and Bruce are at home one hot morning after a night of fitful sleep. Marie discusses her partner Bruce with the audience, interrupting her conversation to occasional berate him in a highly crude and graphic manner. It is so over the top, that the audience laughs for a while, seeing this as a black comedy. But her tirade continues, accelerating past uncomfortable, racing by annoying before arriving at wearisome. It is as if the director and author insist on taking any pleasure out of the proceedings - the audience must be as annoyed as the characters are. (The fact that the audience has any empathy left for Marie is a tribute to Marisa Tomei’s delivery and self deprecation.) Marie plans to break up with Bruce that evening, but a party intrudes and she must wait until they go for desert after the party.

Marisa Tomei, Frank Whaley / Credit: Monique Carboni
The second part of the show takes place at a dinner party full of pompous, self-important blowhards – or maybe that is just Marie’s impression. The dinner party takes place at a round table, which rotates, disorienting the audience as Marie is disoriented by liquor. It is an effective tool, until it goes on too long. It is at the party that Frank Whaley brings Bruce into full focus. Bruce is not the polite and caring man which he seemed in part one. He waits to be in front of others before berating Marie, when he is not busy ignoring her in order to flirt with other women.

And finally, these two unpleasant people adjourn to a cafĂ© for part three of the tale. This is where Marie has said she plans to break up with Bruce. By this time, the audience understands that the break up won’t ever happen. For some reason, these two are tied together, through bad times and worse.  Protracted silence replaces anger and interplay - but drains the show of energy when it could most use it.

And finally, as they go home, the weather breaks, rains come and things look up.  And so we have witnessed a bad day. Wow.

I can’t blame the actors nor the director for this show. The director, Scott Elliott, moves the show in interesting ways, trying to engage the audience, and it works in large part.  But the pace of the writing, staring sharp and harsh before winding down out of both energy and new things to say, strains patience. Ultimately, it is an easy show to watch, but difficult to enjoy.
Marie and Bruce (website)
Playwright: Wallace Shawn
Director: Scott Elliott
Cast: Marisa Tomei, Frank Whaley, Tina Benko, Russel G. Jones, Cindy Katz, Devin Ratray, Alok Tewari, Adam Trese, Alison Wright

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