Are there accomplished men as emotionally clueless and unaware of the toxic impact of their privilege as Nick, the self-centered New York novelist at the center of Another Marriage at Steppenwolf Theatre? Unfortunately, yes. Are there professional young women as dumb and bumpkinish as Macassidy, the woman who lures Nick away from his talented and insightful wife, Sunny, and their infant daughter, Jo? Yep. But the play, written by Kate Arrington and directed by Terry Kinney–two of our most talented theater makers–would be more effective if it was not determined to hold those characters up to ridicule in every way possible.
If these two were imbued with just a bit more texture and nuance, the narrative indictment of them would carry more sting. Although it is hilarious when Macassidy says she’s never had tea as amazingly good as the cup Sunny just served her only to be told, “It’s Lipton.” There are several big laughs like that, and acid takedowns of privileged straight white men and the comely young women who keep them afloat on a sea of flattery and flirtation are deservedly celebrated. The opening-night audience even got in on the fun, with a woman in the front row bringing down the house by loudly proclaiming “Right?” when Sunny asked Nick to cross the room for a requested kiss rather than making her come to him after his many years of misdeeds and thoughtless moments.
So this is a crowd-pleaser, no doubt. And the acting chops on display are impressive. In particular, Judy Greer, as Sunny, herself a novelist, though more of a frustrated one than Nick, provides a subtle, wry, warm-hearted counterbalance to the two people who throw her life into turmoil before she finds firmer footing of her own making. As Macassidy, Caroline Neff is a luminious, wide-eyed ball of energy, while Ian Barford essays Nick as someone who truly loves Sunny and admires her talents even as he, mostly unwittingly, makes one emotional misstep with her after another. Holding it all together is Jo, played in her young-adult years by the engaging, energetic Nicole Scimeca.
Jo ducks in and out of the proceedings, setting up scenes by directly addressing the audience and typing out brief lines on her tablet for display on an overhead screen. Jo telling the story of her parents from the start of their relationship in college is the play’s framing device. This may help explain why it’s so hard on Nick, but given that Jo loves Macassidy, it’s surprising that she flays her stepmother as hard as she does.
Arrington is deft with dialogue and set-pieces such as Nick’s bonkers profession of love for Sunny on a wintry college quad. She also nails the giddy, overwhelming and occasionally desperate moments of new parenthood, all of which Greer plays with thrilling aplomb.
There is a scene in a New York diner, referenced repeatedly in the play as a family favorite joint, where Nick, Sunny and teenaged Jo gather for a post-divorce (well, post two divorces for Nick) meal. It’s reminiscent of the joyful but ominous last scene of The Sopranos, though we do learn some of what happens to these three after the fact.
Can Nick finally cut through the fog of privilege so thick he used to think Sunny hated him if her response to him was anything shy of adoration and finally stop tripping over his dick? And if he does become, if not endearing, at least sufferable, will these women, who have built fulfilling independent lives largely despite him, even notice? Time will tell.
Another Marriage runs through July 23 at Steppenwolf Theatre.
For a full roundup of reviews of this show, visit Theatre in Chicago.
Photo by Michael Brosilow