Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Adroit and Intriguing Playwriting Defines One Good Marriage
Also see Bob's review of Instructions For Breathing
Steph and Stu have recently arrived in town and rented the venue. We, the assembled audience, are cast in the roles of their invited guests who they hope will become their friends. They need friends. Badly. Steph and Stu want to tell us about themselves. Their plaintive, very sad story is the sum and substance of the engaging one-act One Good Marriage by Canadian playwright Sean Reycraft.
Steph and Stu, respectively, English teacher and librarian at small town Millwood Lakes High School, tell us the charming, anecdote-filled story of their extended courtship, church wedding, legion hall wedding party and low budget, rural honeymoon six hours north at a Ho Jo in Rutland, Vermont. Upon their return home, Steph and Stu learn that, after they departed their wedding party, leaking gas caused an explosion and fire which killed all 86 of their attending relatives and friends.
Reycraft gives us a credible account of the painful and bereft circumstances of Steph and Stu's experience in the ensuing months without spreading a pall over the proceedings. His sly, singular, offbeat observations and graceful dialogue tease and amuse, and make us think. Consider that Steph and Stu's view that school was better after the tragedy because their students were respectful to them and more serious about their studies. During their courtship, their students had vulgarly sniggered and gossiped about them. Also note that the formerly struggling couple has inherited 14 houses, and is now quite well-off financially. American Legion members approach them seeking a substantial gift to pay for the rebuilding of the hall. In short order, realizing that they will always be viewed in Millwood Lakes as the survivors of their incinerated family and friends ("death is all we are"), the couple decide to move away. As they finish their presentation to us, the flustered, worried Steph and Stu feel the need to reassure us, "Don't worry, it won't happen again". They know they are going to be together forever. However, can either we, their new neighbors, or Steph and Stu themselves ever regard them other than through the prism of their tragic wedding day?
Reycraft's title likely refers to the fact that Steph and Stu's tragedy has forged an unbreakable bond between them. Still, it is generic sounding. A title can influence how we view, think about and remember a play. Since viewing the remarkably engaging One Good Marriage, I have only been able to think of this play as 86 Dead. The last time that I found my mind so locked in to a personal re-titling was when I saw Stephen Sondheim's Fosca.
Director Thom Molyneaux and his actors Sarah Koestner and Vincent Sagona maintain a pace and attitude that is just off balance enough to match the off-balance quality of the writing. Play and production succeed by gingerly walking the thin line between the offbeat and the realistic. Sarah Koestner portrays Steph as highly nervous, at times on the edge of coming apart, without losing the slightly quizzical, life-embracing persona which she reveals in the courtship scenes. Vincent Sagona's Stu is more laid back and steady, and plays and projects an engaging, seemingly internalized empathy for what Steph is feeling.
Terry Thiry's costumes (a blue cocktail dress for Steph and a grey suit and striped tie for Stu) are fitting for the characters and their circumstance. Greg Cilmi's set depicting a stage about to be redecorated is fine.
One Good Marriage proves that an unlikely, grim story can be the basis for intelligent and witty entertainment in the hands of the right playwright, director and actors.
One Good Marriage continues performances (Evenings: Thursday-Saturday 8 PM/ Mats: Sun 3 PM) through May 10, 2009 at the Garage Theatre Group in residence at the Becton Theatre at Fairleigh Dickinson University, 960 River Road, Teaneck, New Jersey. Box Office: 201-569-7710; online: www.GarageTheatre.org.
One Good Marriage by Sean Reycraft; directed by Thom Molyneaux