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Split

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Michael Weller's Split, the new production from the Broken Watch Theatre Company at the Lion Theatre, catalogs the oddities and challenges of modern marriage. It is itself split down the middle - the intermission changes the rules of the game just when you thought you understood them. If you can survive that, you can make it through the rest of this slight, but curiously entertaining, production.

The reason for the substantial differences between the acts is most clearly spelled out in a program note explaining that the first act was originally produced in 1978 and the second in 1980. While the acts share the two primary characters, Paul and Carol (played by Leo Lauer and Teresa L. Goding), and some situations, the remaining connections between the stories are tenuous at best.

The first, and funnier, act finds Paul and Carol already separated after six years of marriage. Paul wants to pursue his friend, Jean (Nina Edgerton), in a new way, while Carol gets caught up with an eccentric filmmaker (played with barely subdued smarminess by Andrew J. Hoff). Paul and Carol's relationship is contrasted with that of their friends Bob and Marge (Stephen Brumble Jr. and Veronica Mittenzwei). Bob and Marge have disagreements but can make up, while one disagreement dissolves Paul and Carol's marriage, perhaps forever.

After the somewhat inconclusive ending of the first act, the second act presents that argument in greater detail. At this point, the play's quirky sense of humor vanishes, and Split becomes what is almost a more traditional domestic comic drama, with both Carol and Paul laying themselves bare for the other to judge without misrepresentation.

But it becomes equally clear, through their discussion, that the events Paul and Carol are enacting are not exactly those described in the first act. Director Drew DeCorleto skillfully keeps things ambiguous - was the reality of the situation the first act or the second? Or was either real? Answers may be found in J. Wiese's cleverly contradictory sets, which are representative before the intermission but minutely detailed after. When Wiese's second act apartment mixes with Joel Scher's costumes, the result is a beige nightmare, something so real, it's unreal.

That Paul and Carol long to break out from their routine is, perhaps, understandable, but logic seems to be on their side more in the second act than the first. Paul and Carol are far more likable in the second act as well, drawing you into their world far more readily than earlier in the show. The second act is rife with moments of real drama and tension, and Lauer and Goding handle it with credible aplomb.

They have less to work with in the first act, but remain the most interesting things onstage. Weller's story is spread perilously thin, and presented with so many disjointed and flat-out weird elements that Paul and Carol's far more interesting is all too easily lost. Hoff is almost distractingly over the top, but the others are fine, though underutilized dramatically, their characters tending to detract from the play rather than contributing to it.

But Split, especially in the second act, is watchable throughout, and enjoyable even at its most unruly. The casual viewer may learn little about marriage from Weller's insights, but Goding and Lauer's well performed second act dissolution and re-emergence as a loving couple is frequently touching and instructive as a lesson in what to do (and what not to) in relationships of any sort.

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Broken Watch Theatre Company
Split
Through September 20
Lion Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street just West of 9th Avenue
Schedule and Tickets: Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200