Marie and Bruce

  • Our critic's rating:
    April 1, 2011

    Review by Tulis McCall
    (7 Apr 2011)

    There is only one problem with this script. I didn’t believe it. Well, not entirely. I just didn’t believe the parts where Marie and Bruce are actually speaking to one another. To wit:

    (As the play opens, MARIE is wearing a flowery dress. BRUCE is asleep, in his pajamas. MARIE has gotten up. It’s morning.)

    MARIE (to audience) Let me tell you something. I find my husband so God damned irritating that I’m planning to leave him. And that’s a fact. (to Bruce) Yes! I’m sick of you! Do you get it? You’re driving me insane! I can’t stand living with you for one more minute! I’m sick of it! I hate it! I hate my life with you! Do you hear me? -- I hate it!

    Oh -- hello, darling. Is it time to get up?

    No! No! It is not time to get up! For God’s sake, go back to sleep -- please!

    Well, don’t be irritable, darling --

    Irritable? Irritable? You call me irritable? God damn you, I’ve had about enough of your disgusting insults, you God damned cheap God damned idiotic pig, you shit! Now go back to sleep!

    Well -- all right, darling -- (He returns to sleep.)

    This is pretty much how it goes with Marie and Bruce. And as it is being played by Marisa Tomei and Frank Whaley it is all one note. She has taken a page from Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? He is doing a startling imitation of Stan Laurel. The combination is deadly, which of course is what Wallace Shawn intended. But in this case it is more than the characters not getting on; it is the blend of the actors as well. This is like watching someone try to put two magnets together using the same charged ends. In this case the like ends repel one another. Tomei and Whaley are not aided by the staging either, that has them waking, pulling their clothes out of side bureaus that also house their morning coffee and rolls. Awkward and inexplicable all around. We never find out why Marie is angry and why Bruce is passive. We never get close.

    What works splendidly is the next bit of business, beginning with Marie’s monologue about how she spends her day. Then it is off to a party where Marie and Bruce separate, thank God, and end up arriving at different times to the same party. The set is transformed (excellent ensemble work by the rest of this cast) into a dining room where a dinner party takes place. Think My Dinner With André times 6. Using a slow revolve the discussions, such as they are, at the table are brought to the fore, slide by us and are replaced by another duo. Explanations transform into arguments, the kind that happen when the liquor takes over. It is a fascinating construct, and this cast pulls it off brilliantly.

    Too bad the party ends. Then we are back with Marie and Bruce, but not before Bruce has a splendid monologue about his day. They retire to a café where Marie’s mouth engages the auto-pilot controls, and Bruce returns to his corner where the gloves are laced on again and the mouth guard inserted.

    We watch the relationship slip into ambiguity. The conclusion is vague. The result is disappointing. Marie and Bruce are dry as toast, and all we want is to go back to that party where life was present. This is a production with a gooey center, but you have to get through the stale, tasteless, and illogical duets before and after as a price. It’s too much to pay.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "It encourages you to luxuriate in your most negative, misanthropic feelings. And admit it, you kind of enjoy sinking into a bubble bath of bile now and then. You know you do. And with a super cast led by Marisa Tomei and Frank Whaley, performers willing to embrace their characters’ deepest unpleasantness, Scott Elliott’s production provides one artfully mucky wallow."
    Ben Brantley for NY Times

    "In the first few minutes of the New Group's 'Marie and Bruce,' the title couple take their place among some of history's most codependent antagonists: George and Martha in 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' Felix and Oscar in 'The Odd Couple,' Itchy and Scratchy in 'The Simpsons.'"
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for NY Post

    "For the party sequence..., the director and designer Derek McLane seat the characters at a round table that slowly revolves. This stylized rendering of the scene only serves to drain human energy from an already inert play."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    "This play is so one-note in its depiction of discord that it's hard to take."
    David Sheward for Back Stage

    New York Times - NY Post - Newsroom Jersey - Back Stage