The Un-Marrying Project
BOTTOM LINE: An impeccable production of an ambitious new play with a lot to say about who we are.
Playwright Larry Kunofsky loves breaking rules. Like the rule that unless your name is Kushner or Stoppard your plays should not be over 90 minutes. Or the one about keeping casts small and plots simple and straightforward. Kunofsky’s new play, The Un-Marrying Project, is an ambitious exploration of our current political, artistic and ethical zeitgeist. The play is complex, thought-provoking, and frequently entertaining. It’s also a jumble of ideas and plotlines that has, as that famous philistine Emperor Joseph II said of Mozart, “too many notes.”
But you may not notice. The production is cleverly directed by Rachel Eckerling, wittily designed and beautifully acted. An ensemble of 7 actors play 19 roles, each skillfully delineated with a fair share of nuance. And if the nearly 2 ½ hour duration sometimes feels long, there are enough funny lines, stimulating ideas and nifty technical effects to keep you riveted. Well, almost enough.
Employing the device of a documentary film, the play explores the difficulty of artistic authenticity and the perils of activism: “When you try to change the world, the world changes you.” Kunofsky uses the issue of gay marriage as an emotional lightning rod for his (mostly) empathetic, morally earnest characters: four very different couples who volunteer to divorce until full marriage rights are granted to everyone. But the results of their selflessness aren’t always predictable—or welcome.
Filmmakers Simon and Kim (Nic Grelli and Jolly Abraham) suffer from CPA’s (Couples–based Panic Attacks) and bicker affectionately until the stress of the project reveals the hidden fault lines in their relationship. The WASPY, elderly Kramms (Bill Wheeden and Katie Atcheson) deal with depression and addiction. A gay Chelsea couple, Andy and Janosh (Brian Miskell and Abraham Amkpa) find infidelity and heartbreak, as do Peter and Hope (Amkpa and Atcheson). Ephraim and Tzipora (Miskell and Diana Oh) are Modern Orthodox Jews who suffer profoundly when they leave their structured, insular world to act on their social consciences. Only the lesbian couple Maggie and Wendy (Atcheson and Oh) emerge unscathed from the experience.
Meanwhile Kunofsky gets a lot of satiric mileage out of Tim-Robbins-and-Susan-Sarandon, a narcissistic celebrity entity who appears to offer meaningless advice to Simon and Kim. There’s also plenty of intelligent comedy in the prolix, pragmatic Rabbi X of Teaneck, New Jersey.
The acting is strong across the board. I was particularly taken with the work of Nic Grelli as the charmingly neurotic Simon, the superb Katie Atcheson in all her roles, and the dynamic Diana Oh. In the play’s most wrenching scene, Oh’s emotional investment in Tzipora’s grief is palpable. In the funniest scene of the play, she and Atcheson team up as Maggie and Wendy try unsuccessfully to improvise a first time pick-up in a sports bar.
What works so well in the play reveals what doesn’t. The Kramms are interesting but their story and that of their dead son Fletcher have no apparent connection to the larger theme. The Yanos/Andy relationship is frustratingly vague, like Yanos’ undefined ethnicity and accent. And frankly I could do without the Laugh-In style one liners altogether.
This is a play, and a production, well worth seeing for many reasons. Kunofsky has a lot to say, and I hope he continues saying it his way. Mozart didn’t listen to Joseph, thank God.
(The Un-Marrying Project runs in rep with The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret at the Paradise Factory, 64 East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and Bowery. Performances are April 19th, 21st, 23rd, 27th & 29th at 8PM, and April 30th at 2PM. Tickets are $18 and may be purchased online at brownpapertickets.com or by calling 800.838.3006.)