Marriage is eternal. Well, at least it's supposed to be. But the reality is that it's extremely difficult to navigate through life with one other person who you still learn new things about every day. And those new quirks and differences probably seem the most obvious during the engagement period, when things aren't 100% "final." It's this relationship stage that Matt Saldarelli explores in his hilarious, endearing new play Welcome to Eternity, which premieres at the 15th annual New York International Fringe Festival.
Saldarelli, fresh of success at last year's FringeNYC—where his play, Getting Even With Shakespeare, won the "Overall Excellence in Playwrighting" award—brings us 7 vignettes chronicling the engagement of Amanda and Patrick in Welcome to Eternity. We journey with them as they try to spice up their sex life (with Missionary Sunday and so forth), quiz each other on the ins and outs of Catholicism, and enjoy some silent communication after a jog. Patrick has the bright idea to write a graphic novel about Amanda's family as a superhero team and Amanda ranks Patrick's marriageability against his groomsman. We witness them fight about past secrets, and finally get to the inevitable moment of cold feet before the wedding. The script is light, funny, and charming throughout, while delivering an underlying message about how much we are learning and changing in a relationship every day—and how difficult that can be to reconcile. While the ideas like an awkward, funny faux-interrogation by Amanda to discover a supposedly sordid detail of Patrick's past and meticulously planning out their "spontaneous" sex life are very funny, Saldarelli skillfully sneaks in how much each of these little events chip away at the foundation of a seemingly strong relationship, until the end, where the bittersweet aspect of getting married takes the place of the humor. Do we get married because we fit perfectly and are overwhelmingly happy, or do we stick with it because the freight train of marriage has already been set in motion and we fit enough to be "happy-mostly."
Saldarelli's dialogue is sharp, snappy, and fun and flows perfectly out of the mouths of Mary Schneider and Patrick Pizzolorusso. Schneider and Pizzolorusso share a nice rhythm and chemistry on stage and are on point with Saldarelli's quick, witty script. Pizzolorusso is hilariously neurotic and quirky as Patrick—he shines when he takes us through his plans for his graphic novel. Schneider is adorably charming and intelligent as Amanda: you can see the moments where she deftly switches from being lovingly supportive of Patrick's ideas, when she's being obligatorily patronizing, and when she truly has no clue what he's talking about. Schneider is wonderful in her "interrogation scene" as she tries desperately to stay on task of how she's read an interrogation is supposed to go, but is constantly derailed by her own sweetness and Patrick's disarming quality. Laura Konsin Shortt's staging makes great use of space and distance, creating great tension between the bride- and groom-to-be. If Welcome to Eternity lacks anything, it's earlier physical establishment of their love and intimacy for each other. It took awhile before I really felt these two loved each other deeply and had a connection (though perhaps this was part of the point), which perhaps could have been helped with a few small moments of physical contact early on or a little bit more intimacy in the opening dialogue.
Welcome to Eternity is an extremely fun and, at times, sobering ride through a still-fledgling relationship. It's actually quite sneaky with its light, humorous style, because it really does ask an important question about relationships and why we stick with them. While the vignettes seem like mundane, everyday absurdities, they actually find an odd sort of gravitas. Because while Matt Saldarelli's writing and the cast's performances charm us, they provide snapshots of what issues, big and small, we have to face in monogamous relationships. Is this truly what "Eternity" will be like? And I don't believe Welcome to Eternity forces an answer on us. When we leave, we get to decide if the juice is worth the squeeze.