Requiem for a Marriage
nytheatre.com review by Rachel Grundy
July 18, 2009
J.B. Edwards's Requiem for a Marriage is a play that explores how secrets and lies can destroy a marriage over 30 years, and traps a daughter in the claustrophobia of a Gramercy Park penthouse full of unhappiness. The themes in this play have echoes of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but the writing lacks the emotional punch it needs to create a moving piece.
The show has a simple set and lighting design, not trying too hard to create complexity in the very limited setup and breakdown time that festival pieces have. Basic black boxes, a chair and table, and simple props are enough to suggest time and place and I was glad to see a company embracing the festival ethos in this way and keeping it simple.
The opening scene, an argument between husband Adam and wife Jean, appears to be a rehash of many previous arguments and is not particularly strong. Memory Contento, as Jean, has a lot of repetitive lines to get out, which slow the pace and intensity of her delivery. George Tynan Crowley's Adam is appropriately emotional and unpredictable throughout the piece, but his high energy contrasts strongly with Contento's slower pace and their scenes together follow this pattern without much change. This made his eventual departure rather strange—why, after 30 years of the same conflict, does he finally decide to leave now?
The Smileys' daughter Erica, played by Jodie Bentley, punctuates all the scenes in the play. The only one to directly speak to the audience, she wears a flashlight around her neck and uses it to shine at her parents when she starts a conversation with them, like a teenager deliberately trying to be annoying. This character is supposed to be 30 years old but is written as if she were 15—Bentley looks the right age, but gives the character an attitude that is more reminiscent of a high schooler. Although the writing tends toward this kind of portrayal, it just doesn't seem to fit with the character's real age or what she seems to represent. I thought that Bentley was hampered by this rather one-dimensional character and could have done more with a stronger character.
The second scene, set in Adam's lover's apartment, is markedly different in tone and pace. Julia Motyka, as Margot, is a fiery and intelligent spark, and she and Crowley have great chemistry as lovers. Motyka's strong stage presence matches Crowley well and I enjoyed their scenes together, particularly in the latter part of the play when Adam has left Jean and moved in with Margot. Adam and Margot's relationship follows a similarly destructive path as that of Adam and Jean's, but with a more dramatic and physical outcome.
The "secret" of the play—the real reason that Erica is trapped in the apartment with her parents—becomes clear quite early on, and so I was expecting something more than the revelation of this secret as the end to the play. Unfortunately, this was not the case and it made for a weak ending to the play, despite the actors' best efforts to create a moving and poignant scene.