A Laugh-Filled ‘Marriage’ in Seaver

Infidelity abounds in There’s One In Every Marriage, on stage this weekend at Seaver Theater. Focusing on the amorous hijinks of well-to-do bourgeois Parisian society, this farce by French playwright Georges Feydeau (1862-1921) sets out to make you laugh—a lot. And it does. Over the course of two hours and 20 minutes (yeah, it’s long) you’ll be presented with more jokes than you can count. Some of them will make you genuinely laugh out loud. Some of them won’t. On the whole, the betting money is that you’ll have a good time.

It’s tough to decide which acting moments to highlight, because there are quite a few worth mentioning—both big and small. A few particular things, in order of character appearance: Tim Reynolds PO ’15 as Pontagnac is fun to watch. Chelsea Thompson SC ’14 has nice stage presence, and she really gets you to sympathize with her in the third act. Solomzi Moleteki PZ ’14 has a tightly wound energy as the jovial Swedish businessman who hasn’t forgotten his hard-knock roots in Marseille.

Allison Lawrence SC ’12 adds great physical and vocal touches to the voluptuous Armandine, whose men like her because she’s “stupid,” and because she can go eleven hours straight in bed. Will Holt’s PZ ’13 part is small, but he does creative work with his whole body: facial expressions, white-gloved hands, shuffling feet. Mark Irwin PZ ’14 is straight up hilarious at times as the retired army doctor who mocks his deaf wife while she’s standing right next to him. I’m still smirking just thinking about when he stands downstage and casually lets out a string of curse words. His deaf wife, by the way, is Lucie Saether PO ’15.

Costume designer Alice Garfield PO ’12 dresses the actors in sumptuous period clothes. The skirts are big and the men are in three-piece suits. The realist scenic design is by Theater professor James P. Taylor.

So this show is good. You’ll laugh. The thing is… it could be even better. With this script– which is a truly excellent adaptation from the original French– and this cast, it could be great. A few weeks ago in this space I wrote that at the 5Cs we should not judge our ability based on the work we produce, but on the work we’re capable of producing. It is for this reason that, as enjoyable as There’s One In Every Marriage was, I left dissatisfied. Yes, there are some big laughs, and yes, there are naturally some jokes that don’t work. But it’s the middle ground—how many jokes land solidly versus how many just miss—that makes or breaks this show. And unfortunately, more jokes fall into the second category.

There were a lot of times when I wanted to laugh, when the lines were funny, but something was off—the timing, the delivery. Part of this is on the actors. But more so, this is on the director, Theater Professor Leonard Pronko. He instructs his cast to keep the pace brisk, and that’s important when you’re dealing with a show as long as this. But it seems like that’s the only direction he’s given. What’s more, this pacing comes at the expense of a lot of nuance. The actors aren’t permitted to build up jokes– they’re forced to just churn them out one after the other. Rather than acting, at times it comes perilously close to recitation.

This rigidity also shows up in the staging (how the actors move around, their choreography so to speak), which is very one-dimensional, and almost non-existent. For a bunch of frisky Parisians, they certainly don’t like to touch each other. And yes, you can argue that well-heeled bourgeois citizens might conduct themselves with a certain reserve. But why so strictly limit yourself when the script is so slapstick, and practically begs for over the top physicality to enhance the language? Why, oh why, include the show’s only all-out brawl at the end of an act, when the lights go out a few seconds in, and the actors are left to awkwardly stop and walk off? It’s just not good staging.

In the end, if you’re so inclined, definitely make your way down to the theater over the weekend and see this show. You’ll enjoy it. But try to identify the empty moments, the moments where a joke is passed over, where the actors could be doing great physical work, but for whatever reason they aren’t. It is because of these moments that the show is just good, and not great. Give me one reason not to push for the latter.

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