Playwright Ken Urban’s absorbing new play starts strong and keeps you hooked during most of its snappy real-time runtime before slogging down in a closing exhalation and then abruptly coming up short at the writer’s attempt at a statement coda.
But The Remains is worth a viewing. It’s a thought-provoking, affecting study of the most vulnerable parts of a marriage—all of the negations and omissions and denials that build up and fill in the framework between two people who’ve entered into that special compact and which can only be fully, passionately aired during its severing.
The show, receiving its world premiere at Studio Theatre under the direction of David Muse, mostly courses with a bright, seriocomic flair. The play is set in a kitchen out of a glossy Williams-Sonoma spread and peopled with the erudite, cultured characters Woody Allen traffics in—there are two academics, an attorney and a theater critic in a five-person cast.
The dramatic premise of the play is known beforehand, a decision which works—Kevin (Maulik Pancholy) and Theo (Glenn Fitzgerald) were one of the first gay couples to marry in Massachusetts when it became legal in the state in 2004 but after a decade of marriage and 17 years of togetherness, they’ve decided to announce to their families that they are calling it quits.
Both men are likable chaps who appear to have reached the conclusion of their relationship with the respectful consideration evident in their home décor. Still, apprehension is felt from the opening scene—all is not as it seems as the dreaded familial notification is to be carried out over dinner in the presence of Theo’s doting parents Trish (Naomi Jacobson) and Len (Greg Mullavey) and Kevin’s Southie misfit sister Andrea (Danielle Skraastad).
Much of the play unpacks comfortably, with writerly teases of foreshadowing, as the cast blithely and humorously treads around an announcement we know is coming, in no great hurry to pitch the audience into tumult. Trish is a gurgling fountain of dippy observations and Len good-naturedly tries to get a discussion started about the relative merits of the works of Hegel and Kierkegaard. Andrea bursts onto the scene from a Melissa McCarthy movie but becomes a nice contrast to the situation once she settles and her contours are better known.
And then before you know it the announcement is made, the lasagna is burned, and the unhappy couple’s every shameful, guilt-ridden thought and deed is dissected, scrutinized and laid bare. And it’s not only the hosts’ marriage that’s autopsied. No, Trish and Len have been married a lot longer and have some surprising revelations themselves, adding depressing but honest context.
closes June 24, 2018
Details and tickets
As the night goes on, we learn that often, no one is blameless when relationships crash and crumble. Kevin and Theo share infidelity, betrayal and evasion but they also still share love, remorse and the desire to hold on. This crisis of conscience is familiar to anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship that falls apart. It’s painful and it’s tragic—a conflict between two right decisions where a choice means loss, as Urban beats repetitively throughout the play.
The weight of the passage the couple is moving through is delicately, and most wonderfully expressed by Fitzgerald in a tender, poignant performance.
The play eventually hits a wall with about 15 minutes or so to go. The guests have left and the same ground is raked over for what seems longer than what it could’ve been. I even found myself thinking “Just break up already,” about these two characters I had come to care about.
Finally, soft exit, lights down. Then there’s the coda—which might be called a brassy misstep, or at the very least, an execution eclipsed by the overstuffed conceit of its concept, but what Studio Theatre’s dramaturg Adrien-Alice Hansel calls “a radical shift in theatrical mode.”
It doesn’t add anything especially meaningful to what’s come before, much less reach the playwright’s lofty vision of expanding the play’s frame to include “higher-order social and philosophical questions,” as Hansel writes. It’s rather an unnecessarily jarring punctuation point to what had been an emotionally complete narrative drama.
That aside, there’s much to receive from The Remains. Even though the play sprang from Urban’s own divorce from his husband and is supposed to reflect the new phenomenon of legal gay marriage, this story is universal. Ending a marriage is hard for everyone, gay and straight, it’s a disruption for all involved and giving in to love inevitably hurts without exception.
The Remains by Ken Urban. Directed by David Muse. Featuring Glenn Fitzgerald, Maulik Pancholy, Naomi Jacobson, Greg Mullavey, Danielle Skraastad. Set design by Wilson Chin. Costume design by Asta Bennie Hostetter. Lighting design by Jesse Belsky. Sound design by Matthew Nielson. Madison Bahr is the stage manager. Produced by Studio Theatre. Reviewed by Roy Maurer.