Thursday, August 22, 2002
Steamboat Springs There was something missing in the 7th Street Playhouse production of "Marriage is Murder," but it wasn't immediately obvious exactly where that hole lied.
It wasn't the stage design. Seth Bograd pieced together a very real rendition of a single person's apartment. There was an empty wine bottle sitting next to a coffee cup on the back table. A towel from the morning shower tossed on top of a writing desk. A blanket was crumpled on the couch and half-read newspapers were scattered on the floor. Just like any alcoholic lesbian writer's apartment in any city, anywhere.
The script was unobtrusive and the actors knew all their lines.
The problem lied behind the lines.
The story line is initially intriguing. A couple (in this production it was a lesbian couple) sees each other for the first time since their divorce 18 months ago. They used to write murder mysteries together and the need for cash drives them to try it again.
Anyone who has loved and lost can predict the charge of emotional tension that would load every line between estranged spouses. Two people who knew each other too well, but now act like strangers: it's an actor's playground of emotional territory to explore.
Unfortunately, opening night left us with the strong suspicion that the two players had not ventured farther than being able to say the lines without looking at the script.
Not once did I feel love, or real pain, or even physical attraction between the two characters. I never rooted for them to get back together, because, frankly, none of us believed that they had ever been together.
Laurie Weaver (who played Paula Butler) and Aly Matthews (who played Polly Butler) delivered their lines well. It was Weaver's first time on stage and she did a great job.
When Polly was tied up and gagged on the floor during an experimental murder scene, Paula stood above her enjoying the situation while throwing martini after martini down her throat. As she became progressively drunk, she gave a powerful confessional monologue.
For a moment, I felt the two had a past. The feeling faded, however, as soon as both were back on their feet and faced each other.
What "Marriage is Murder" lacked was not talent, but chemistry between the actors. I wish it on no one, but perhaps it has been too long since either of them have fallen in love, felt the pain of a broken heart or experienced the difficulty of being in the same room and working through the past with the very person who caused that pain.
If that is not the case, it may also be that the director's risk, to cast two women in a play written for a traditional couple, was not taken far enough.
The script was never changed to reflect the gay couple. The words "husband" and "wife" were still used.
During one scene, Paula was emptying Polly's handbag and pulled out a box of condoms. If Polly had gone straight or was turning to men even for the moment, wouldn't that issue be addressed by a gay couple trying to work out their problems?
The two embraced, but never kissed, even in moments where I cannot doubt a director would have sent a heterosexual couple in that direction.
Perhaps Director Nina Rogers was afraid that her audience wasn't open minded enough to witness true gay intimacy.
In the end it was still a heterosexual play with a woman cast in a male's role.
"Marriage is Murder" will be staged through Aug. 31, time enough for the actors to get over what could have been opening night nerves and show us the struggle beyond the script.