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Theatre in Review: The Exes (Theatre Row)

Alison Preece, Tim Hayes. Photo: Emily Hewitt.

Lenore Skomal's new play is dedicated to the idea that divorce makes a family, and multiple divorces only further strengthen the ties that bind. Chief among the exes in The Exes are Dick and Richard, men of a certain age happily severed from the egregious Mavis, whose hobby is spreading chaos among her so-called loved ones. Dick wed her first, but when she decided that marital bliss in Methuen, Massachusetts, was too, too banal, she traded up to Richard, a venture capitalist. A life of cosseted luxury didn't satisfy, either; a year before the play begins, she absconded to Denmark with her latest beau, even as the Boston town house she shared with Richard burned to the ground, under distinctly murky circumstances. (The only items not torched were her jewels, which she is avid to reclaim.) Dick and Richard are now best friends, referring to each other as One and Two, and feeling well out of it.

And why not? It's Christmas Eve, and Victoria, Richard's daughter from a previous marriage, is getting married that very day. (Tying the knot appears to be the main pastime in this crowd.) Richard, ever the control freak, has the ceremony practically on lockdown, for a variety of reasons. For one, his latest investment, a genetically modified flower known, for its long-lasting properties, as "the Boutonn-ever," has sparked the ire of the nation's florists, who are collectively plotting revenge. For another, the botanist who developed the Boutonn-ever, feeling cut out of the profits, is threatening ruinous litigation. Finally, there is a general fear that Mavis, who is definitely not invited, might show up.

Indeed, "Hurricane Mavis," as Dick unfondly calls her, storms in, unleashing a cold front of sniping. Her ostensible motive is simple: She needs Richard to sign their divorce papers, pronto, so she can immediately marry her jackass Dane boyfriend -- his name is Marcel Nistlerood -- thus allowing her to stay in Denmark, where her temporary residency is about to expire. (Why did she wait until the last minute? Why hadn't Richard cut her loose before? Because then there wouldn't have been a play, that's why.) Actually, Richard is only too happy to oblige, but that doesn't stop Mavis from sticking around, crashing the ceremony, upsetting the staff, and generally stirring up trouble.

Not that any of it sticks: The Exes is top-heavy with plot complications -- among them a last-minute wrangle over Victoria's pre-nup and revelations about Mavis' cheating ways -- none of which lead anywhere. Indeed, the entire enterprise is a bit of a mystery. It doesn't have a really satirical point of view, but it lacks the wit and solid construction of the vintage boulevard comedies it superficially resembles. The characters are a self-involved, shallow bunch, given to endless, unamusing complaining.

The cast gets little help from the director, Magda S. Nyiri, who leaves them stranded in one awkward tableau after another. (She does all right with a slow-motion sequence detailing the melee that erupts at the wedding, however.) Faring best are David Farrington, who gives Dick a patina of reality, despite his weak lines; Galen Molk as Dick and Mavis' truth-telling son, a perpetual college student; and John Coleman Taylor as Richard's "house manager" -- don't call him the butler! -- who passes the time insulting the guests. Otherwise, Karen Forte folds her arms and pouts irritatingly as Mavis, Tim Hayes makes apoplectic faces as Richard, and Alison Preece goes over the top as the champagne-guzzling, daddy-wheedling terror Victoria. Even she is outpaced by Kyle Porter as the cardboard Casanova Marcel, a collection of effete mannerisms meant to be a hilarious affront to Richard and Dick. (Just to be sure you get the point, Craig Napoliello, the costume designer, dresses him in a burgundy blazer with a lavender shirt and -- that universal signifier of European decadence -- an ascot tie.) I've never before thought of Danes as an oppressed minority; having seen The Exes, I'm revising that opinion.

In what is supposed to pass for humor, Dick keeps mistaking Denmark for the Netherlands, saying, "Whatever; it's all windmills and tulips, anyway;" he also offers this introduction: "He's a Richard. I'm a Dick." Marcel, sitting down for a man-to-man talk with Richard, quotes his favorite Danish expression ("There are owls in the bog"), then cheerfully confesses that he is an unemployable academic, adding, "I had inappropriate relations with my coed students." He also leaps around the stage singing "Wonderful Copenhagen." You know, like Danes do.

At least The Exes looks good: Napoliello's set is a sleek display of moneyed good taste, and his costumes, aside from Marcel's gigolo ensemble, are solid. Ross Graham's lighting and the sound, by Five Ohm Productions, are both fine, but Nathan Repasz's incidental music, especially a maddeningly repetitive tune heard before each act, is painful.

The main thread running through The Exes is the notion that Dick and Richard really belong together. It's an extended gay-panic joke -- we are also expected to laugh at the idea of a terrorist squad of florists -- and it makes you wonder how long ago the script was written. It probably wasn't all that funny then, either. --David Barbour

(14 August 2019)

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