MCC Theatre at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, September 13, 2008
"War of the Roses" meets "Private Lives" (Act II), without the star power of the former, nor the wit and sophistication of the latter.
Michael Weller, now running two shows off-Broadway (the other is The Beast at NYTW), shows a bit of range in these diverse subjects, but still doesn't offer anything more than a "Lifetime" movie as if produced for HBO, complete with unnecessary expletives and a bit of gratuitous nudity.
Adam (Norbert Leo Butz) and Jan (Elizabeth Marvel) appear to have it all. He's an architect with a small boutique firm. She's a former dancer now in an Internet-database start up business of her own. Their only son Greg, age 9, is off for his first sleepover with a friend. Since it's the first time they've been alone together in 9 years, it's the perfect opportunity to confess and batter each other with all the sins, regrets and recriminations that have made up their 18 year relationship.
It begins with inconsequential bickering, which doesn't quite boil up to a full argument, followed by reminiscing over how they met, which does.
He's immature and self-centered. She's cold and insensitive. Fireworks ensue culminating in a slap which leads to a significant episode of passion. He sees the passion as reconcilement. She sees it as one for the road.
Much like The Beast, Mr. Weller has an interesting premise, but it only wanders around itself for an hour and 45 minutes. His Adam and Jan are painfully co-dependent and almost bi-polar. Mood swings of 180 degrees are frequent for both, but only occasionally justified by the script.
Mr. Butz and Ms. Marvel are indisputably talented actors, and muddle through the muck valiantly. They both bring a humanity to their roles that begs the audience's indulgence. For any of you who might have seen "In Treatment" on HBO, the dynamics of their power struggle reminded me of the couple from the first season of that show.
Director Austin Pendleton does well to find the laughs in some of the horror of their battle, but as a one-act the play feels long. the pace is fine, but clocking in at one hour, 45 minutes, he either needs to trim a bit or add an intermission. Too, it's early in previews so there is time before locking the show down for the run.
Neil Patel's Brooklyn brownstone interior is spot on with the Viking range, stainless appliances and Pottery Barn fixtures and accessories, but I think Michelle Habeck as overworked the light plot. For me, the sign of good lighting is not noticing it. I've never seen a first floor kitchen with such cinematic ambiance.