Saturday, October 8, 2016

Marriage Play: Like a horse and carriage

by Jenni Morin

Premiering in 1987, Marriage Play continues to fascinate audiences with the mundane, yet devastatingly inevitable, dissolution and disillusion of one of the most fundamental relationships recognized in society. Mere weeks after the passing of Edward Albee, one of the most celebrated American playwrights, The Classic Theatre of San Antonio presents the opportunity to revel in his work with the staging of Marriage Play, now showing through October 23.

Catherine Babbitt and Andrew Thornton
in Marriage Play at The Classic Theatre.
Photo by Siggi Ragnar.
After 30 years of marriage, Jack returns home early from work one afternoon to tell his wife he is leaving her. When Gillian’s reaction is unsatisfactory, Jack attempts to break the news again and again, hoping for any response beyond nonchalance. Verbal and physical attacks ensue, passages are read from Gillian’s lovemaking journal, indiscretions are revealed and apologies mingle with reminiscence. The back and forth leaves audiences questioning if they will be able to reconcile or if they will numbly acquiesce in the unavoidable.

As Jack, Andrew Thornton opens with a matter-of-fact sterility and exhaustive narration of his decision, indicative of Albee’s style. His repetitious speech is accentuated by sarcastic interjections from Catherine Babbitt’s Gillian. After role-playing two schoolchildren goading each other, each expertly navigates their expectation-obsessed, confused and devastated character through a beautifully verbose sophisticated quarrel. On a near-bare stage, Babbitt and Thornton grapple with the vacant passion and bitter comfort of marriage while trying to understand how what has become nothing is no longer enough. Albee poses an exercise in acceptance leading to the discovery that “the greatest awareness leads to the greatest dark.” Somehow, in the banality of loss there lies profundity. Director Tim Hedgepeth choreographs Albee’s words into banter, leaving stifled dialogue aside as the characters settle into the script. Void of over-dramatization, Thornton and Babbitt are free to frankly portray their characters with an unexpected hint of stark realism. Kaitlin Muse’s lighting design underscores the disquieting everyday occurrence with an afternoon sun streaming through blinds and a subtle prolonged dissolution of light into darkness.

Couples, especially of many years, commonly struggle to maintain individuality, often forgetting, as Gillian points out, that they choose to be together – or, at least, those strong enough to be alone do. With all its many insights, Albee’s Marriage Play teeters on the cusp of revelation, forcing audiences to empathize but not quite understand Jack’s enlightening out-of-body experience. Perhaps the answer to the age-old question of what happened at the end of marriage boils down to nothing.

Albee’s legacy lives in the depth of his exploration into the unremarkable yet defining moments of the human experience. The Classic Theatre production of Marriage Play honors that legacy with a thought-provoking, humorous at times, exhibition of how a good script with a talented cast can stand alone as impeccable theatre.

Marriage Play will run at The Classic Theatre through October 23, 2016 with performances at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

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