Review – Scenes from a Marriage – St James Theater

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HI! Did you miss me? I just went for TWO WHOLE WEEKS without seeing any plays. It was like being on a detox program, complete with outdoor activities, good meals, and evenings playing cards. And surgery. But I’ve been champing at the bit and I’m ready to roll! Bring on London and all of her glories!

*AHEM*

So there is NOTHING like coming back from a lovely relaxing holiday and plunging directly into a bloodbath of resentment and backstabbing – but I’m not talking about the office, I’m talking about the stage. Last year it was King Lear; an excellent production, I felt sure, but I was ready to throw the old man in a nursing home long before the interval. What does it mean when you’re sympathizing with Goneril and Regan? I was worried I’d experience the same inability to manage a perspective shift at the St James Theater, where I went to catch a midweek matinee of Scenes from a Marriage. Bergman’s “brutal” examination of the disintegration of a relationship? I couldn’t figure out if I was more likely to laugh, cry, or say KILL THEM BOTH! KILL THEM ALL! But hey, I was ready to see a play (I had been back for a few days already), and I was intrigued by the concept of seeing a show in a theater I’d never been to before. So, yeah, bring it on!

The structure of this play is (unsurprisingly) cinematic, very much as “scenes” (sometimes ending quite abruptly), with intertitles saying how long has passed since the previous scene: a few hours, a day, six months. It follows about six years in the lives of a man and a woman (Johan and Marianne, Mark Bazeley and Olivia Williams) who start the play being interviewed as the “pefect couple.” Can you imagine MORE of a setup for disaster? Seriously, why didn’t they just wave around a gun a la Chekov? Next thing you know, they’ve got their “best friends” over for dinner, who proceed to call each other names, throw wine, threaten violence, and then say, “But you’re our only friends!” I couldn’t wait to see how the emotionally distant lead couple were going to make it through their own inevitable breakdown – it was more of a question of guessing what was going to cause it.

Oddly, while the script had been solidly modernized (cell phones!) and Anglicized (I think I caught references to “shagging,” though I had to ask why didn’t they just call the man Jonathan and give up on the Scandinavian pretense), both the character of Marianne and the ultimate resolution of the play seemed hopelessly lost in another decade. I also felt it was overly seasoned with Bergman’s take on how women think (hysterical, maternal, frigid) and what a happy ending might be (everyone has more sex, people accept each other as they are). A great director he certainly was, but Ibsen and Strindberg leave him completely in the dust when it comes to solid chacter creation.

The intrinsic cinematic structure combined with the heavy approach Williams and Bazely took early on – way too much emotion way too soon HEY GUYS THERE IS NO BALCONY WE’RE RIGHT HERE!!! – kept me from buying into the reality of what they were depicting. And Williams seemed too determinedly one note throughout – where was the depth of her character? Even so, by the time we got to the end of the first act – and indeed, by the climax in act two – I was very much engaged in the play, even though I never lost the sense that I was watching a bunch of actors. It was good fun watching it all unspool, much like a whodunnit. Overall, it wasn’t amazing, but it was still a very good afternoon, and worth abandoning a sunny autumn afternoon for a few hours of grief and strife.

(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on Thursday, October 3rd, 2013. It continues through November 9th.)

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One Response to “Review – Scenes from a Marriage – St James Theater”

  1. Denise Says:

    Of course I missed you and wondered where you were!

    Funny review! Play seems to have left you in a good mood. Glad you weren’t disappointed – I would have been. But that’s cos it’s such a big deal for me to get to London and a play so it’s got to be very good for me to feeI I got my money’s worth.

    Looking forward to seeing some more reviews.

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