The Great Divide
nytheatre.com review by Lauren Marks
June 13, 2005
In Charles Messina's comedy The Great Divide, audiences find themselves in the midst of a personal and marital crisis. Paul (Ernie Curcio) is confiding in his best friend Max (Johnny Tamaro) about his longings and confusion regarding a woman in his office, Nicole (Barbie Insua). Paul seeks Max’s advice, fearing that he may have already committed a kind of adultery, or, worse yet, that he may be in love and be obligated to leave his wife of ten years, Sara (Gina Ferranti).
The Great Divide addresses many of the concerns of modern couples, especially with regard to adultery. What constitutes adultery: a dream, a feeling, an action? What level of action is acceptable? What level of feeling? Is honesty always the best policy, or is it more fair to spare a loved one the possibly unnecessary grief?
The play, in a series of realistic interchanges and some dreamlike moments, attempts to explore Paul’s confusion since having met Nicole five weeks ago. The audience experiences the events as Paul relates them to Max, who is having relationship troubles of his own. Paul has obviously upset his wife by telling her that he has feelings for another, though he technically has not had “an affair” with the other woman—or at least, he thinks he hasn’t.
The most memorable character here is, without a doubt, Max. As rendered by Johnny Tamaro, Max seems to be the only one talking any sense. His advice is often unorthodox, but never, it seems, poorly considered. His character is also easily the funniest, and the most true to life. Where the play ballooning around him seems occasionally cartoonish, Max seems to stay relatively grounded, or at least sympathetic.
In contrast, it is sometimes hard to root for Paul. Paul is whiny; he is an indecisive screw-up who laments (endlessly) how he hates himself and doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but in the meantime is prolonging the agony of all those involved. It seems he is ill-suited to be around anyone,
There are three possible endings for the piece, and the audience votes nightly on which one the play will culminate in. After intermission, when the votes are counted, the “second act” is really just the few minutes of wrap-up based on what ending the audience has declared—without spending much time to delve into intricacies and consequences of each of the possible endings. If Paul stays with his wife, how might they possibly work out this episode? If Paul leaves her for Nicole, will Nicole ever feel secure with a man who was able to leave his wife after ten years? What might Paul discover about himself if finds himself alone? None of these questions is really explored. Ultimately, these possibilities are a bit disappointing. They seem more useful as a device with which to end the play, rather than to actually examine the repercussions of Paul's decision.
Also, the excitement of deciding Paul's fate is a little diminished because it’s frustrating to let him off the hook. He spends the entire first act avoiding action, only to avoid it again in the form of an audience intervention. Audiences may find themselves desiring exactly what the women do for Paul: to make a definitive and informed decision, instead of so much dalliance and self-questioning. There isn’t a lot of joy in finally telling Paul what will happen to him. Paul remains predictably removed from the process of deciding his own fate, and in the end, he seems cowardly.
At some point, Max advises Paul, “Some things you work out, you die with them,” and it is through this epithet that we understand what makes Paul and Max so different. It is Paul’s endless self-questioning that causes his anxiety and his difficulty taking any kind of action. Paul’s case is not an unsympathetic one. Anxiety and self-doubt are virtually synonymous with modern man. Paul never does “work it out;” though he desires to do good; he stays too indecisive to do much of anything. The Great Divide works with an emotionally complex idea, and does so generously through comedy, rather than the tear-jerking drama it would most surely make. The problems it rasies are likely to resonate with many audience members, and there are some genuinely humorous moments that help along the story.