Sunday, May 6, 2012

"You Better Sit Down: Takes From My Parents' Divorce" - Stories Lost In The Telling

By Judd Hollander
Photo by Joan Marcus

The usually reliable acting troupe the Civilians makes a rather large misstep with You Better Sit Down: Tales From My Parents' Divorce, a work that has all the elements of being either a heart-tugging drama or a hilarious comedy - depending on how one chooses to use the material - but instead comes across as four people sitting around talking in a way far too matter of fact to really care about.

The hook here is that four members of the company (Caitlin Miller, Robbie Collier Sublett, Jennifer R. Morris, Matthew Maher) each interviewed one or both of their parents about their divorce, and used the transcripts of those interviews as the text of the play; the actors also playing their parents on stage. The blueprint for all four interviews is essentially the same: the parents growing up amongst the turbulent backdrop of the 1960s, falling in love and getting married, only to find out that happily ever after doesn't always last. Also mentioned is their changing of priorities, falling out of love and the eventual decision to separate. Reasons for the splits include infidelity, alcohol, denial of what was going on right in front of them, etc.

There is much potential here, with many of the stories often feeling like they could leap off the page. Once such moment occurs when Sublett, playing his mother, recalls what happens after her soon-to-be-ex cleaned out their joint bank account. Realizing late one night that all she had left was the money in her wallet and, since her spouse was still living with her at the time, she had to get out of bed, creep over to her wallet without waking him, hide the money and get back into bed with him being none the wiser. The possibilities in the execution of this situation can be either dramatic or comedic gold.

Sadly, there is no real passion expressed in regards to any of the characterizations offered. Rather the audience is only treated to very small bits and pieces of angst about what went on, all related way too clinically to make any great impression. Granted, in all cases the divorces in question happened over two decades earlier, but there still needs to be some emotional power or impetus behind what's being told. It's possible the people involved in this project were too close to the subject to really get to the heart of the matter or conversely, tried too hard to be objective, but what we are left with feels tired and flat.

It also doesn't help that the actors are, for the most part, only telling the stories of one of their parents; Maher is the only one who looks at the matter from the perspective of both his mother and father. As a result, most of the conversations and takes on the various divorces are rather one-sided. There are reasons given for this; i.e. one parent refused to be interviewed, another was in jail and another had passed away. However none of this takes away from the simple fact that what was presented still should have been more interesting than it ultimately turned out to be.

The acting is fine as far as it goes, the four performers all creating the individual personalities for their parents on stage. It's just that there's nothing under the surface for the audience to latch on to. Anne Kauffman's direction is also at fault here for not using the transcripts as a jumping off point for something more, rather than as the be all and end all of the tale. There are nice bits of business when the various actors go offstage to get coffee, a drink, or simply to answer the phone before getting back to the business at hand, but none of this does much for the overall scheme of things.

You Better Sit Down: Tale From My Parents' Divorce is pleasant enough, but ultimately the show is about as exciting as spending an hour in a library. On a personal note, the night this writer saw the show there was an audience talkback with the cast; one which proved to be far more entertaining and enlightening than the show that had just been presented.

You Better Sit Down: Tales From My Parents' Divorce

Featuring: Caitlin Miller (Mary Anne), Robbie Collier Sublett (Janet), Jennifer R. Morris ( Beverly ), Matthew Maher (John, Frinde)

Written by Anne Kauffman, Matthew Maher, Caitlin Miller, Jennifer R. Morris, Janice Paran and Robbie Collier Sublett

Conceived by Jennifer R. Morris
Directed by Anna Kauffman
Set Design: Mimi Lien
Lighting Design: Ben Stanton
Sound Design: Leah Gelpe
Costume Design: Sarah Beers
Projection Design: Caite Hevner
Production Stage Manager: Megan Schwarz Dickert
Assistant Stage Manager: Danielle Teague-Daniels
Graphic Designer: Jaime Vall├ęs
Associate Set Designer: Caite Hevner
Associate Lighting Designer: Alejandro Fajardo
Associate Sound Designer: Arshan Gailus
Props: Kate Foster
Light Board Operator/Wardrobe: Elana McKelahan
Sound and Project Board Operator: Jim Armstrong

The Flea Theatre

41 White Street
, Tribeca
Tickets: 212-352-3101
Closes: May 6, 2012
Running Time: 65 minutes, no intermission

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