The Most Wonderful Love
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 12, 2006
Matthew Freeman's monumental new play The Most Wonderful Love is an edgy, satiric, and rather bold comedy. It rails against the zeitgeist the way that Jarry, Artaud, Ionesco, and the surrealists did, by which I mean that it tackles a very contemporary manifestation of humanity's epic struggle against God, life, the universe, and ourselves, and does so in epic terms. This is an enormous play and while it shares with the works of the just-named artists a grand irreverence and a sense of the ridiculous, it also possesses, as they do, a sense of disquiet, despair, and rage. It's Freeman's most complex and overtly political work; it's also the biggest and one of the most impressive examples of a new genre in American drama that, for want of a better term, I'll call neo-absurdism (some other recent examples: Comtois's The Adventures of Nervous-Boy, Killebrew's They're Just Like Us, Seavey's 6969, Chmelko's Office Sonata).
On the surface, The Most Wonderful Love is about a divorce. Mother and Father seem happy enough, but he nevertheless wants to terminate their marriage (we don't find out why until the very end; it's a surprise), and she decides to stage an "un-wedding" ceremony to publicly demonstrate how much this severance will mean to (i.e., hurt) her.
The looming ceremony causes a good deal of uproar. Mother and Father's younger daughter, Lil, is heading off certain traumatization by trying to enlist the help of three Internet buddies to help her stop the ceremony. (Lil, 11, is a precocious blogger/chatter, and has quite the reputation among certain Right Wing web fanatics, three of whom fly in to aid her in her efforts.) Jessica, the elder daughter, returns home from that hedonistic hotbed known as California to witness first-hand the "liberation" of her mother from a moribund marriage. The local priest, Father Comeuppance, tries to stage a sort of Intervention to try to prevent both the divorce and the unorthodox public event.
But in the end Mother and Father do what they want, as mothers and fathers will, and the un-wedding takes place right before our eyes, in a service scripted by Freeman (with "hymn" music by Stephen Speights) that is both meticulously detailed and magnificently subversive. Here's a sample, just to give you an idea of what's on Freeman's mind:
Oh Lord Our Shepard,
Day is breaking
Our soft arms and legs are shaking
Over hills the en'my follows
Use your arrows, crush their hollows
In attendance at the un-wedding, by the way, are the family (including Mother's crippled sister Grace), Lil's three weirdo Internet chat buddies, and a contingent from Father's office, all clad in matching suits and Hitleresque moustaches (and singing gorgeous four-part harmony on another original Freeman hymn entitled "The Mountain's Tall").
Am I conveying to you the breadth and audacity of Freeman's vision here? Let me throw some more random details at you, just to be sure. Father Comeuppance has a long speech in which he recounts his former occupation, as a male prostitute in Florida. Lil suffers from an unnamed, hugely debilitating disease that requires her to remain indoors and place a mask over her face if someone so much as opens the door. Jack, one of Lil's 'net pals, is a polygamist; he discovers Grace sitting alone in the dark in the kitchen and tries to cheer her up in a scene lifted (and then deftly parodied) from The Glass Menagerie.
The play is filled with crackpot details like this—indeed, it is built carefully from dozens of them. Its mood, tactics, and style shift over and over again as it reloads and takes aim at everything from capitalism to organized religion to the disconnectedness of the Wired Revolution.
Director Kyle Ancowitz brilliantly matches Freeman's ambition with a production that's richly detailed, splendidly fast-paced, and often hilariously funny. Kerry Chipman's set ingeniously morphs from Mother's homely old-fashioned kitchen to the spcaious garden where the un-wedding takes place. And Katherine Harber's archetypal costumes help us peg each of the characters instantly.
The cast is excellent, led by Lenni Benicaso as Mother, whose tenacious faith ultimately betrays her; other standout portrayals include Brian Fuqua as the slightly flamboyant Father Comeuppance, Sarah Ireland as slutty Jessica, Josephine Stewart as whiny and willful Lil, and, threatening to steal the show, David DelGrosso as Jack (it is he who gets to do the Glass Menagerie bit: I can't even begin to describe the silly thing he does with a piece of chewing gum as he attempts to share it with the increasingly-confident Grace during this scene).
The Most Wonderful Love is awesomely anarchic, gleefully taking potshots and/or turning on their ear all manner of sacred cows. That it does so without ever sacrificing its fundamental intelligence and integrity, and without ever really getting angry or shrill, makes it a particularly impressive achievement.