BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
The New Group revives “Marie and Bruce” with an able cast headed by Marisa Tomei and a handsome production directed by Scott Elliott, but Wallace Shawn’s 1978 play appears strangely lifeless on Theatre Row, where the show opened on Tuesday.
While Shawn’s modern-day study in neo-Nazi leanings, “Aunt Dan and Lemon,” which The New Group revived in 2003, remains a moral shocker, his “Marie and Bruce” is a merely an ugly comedy about a Manhattan couple that raises few sensations at all aside from a feeling of relief when its 100 minutes run out.
Perhaps that’s what the playwright wants viewers to feel.
A play in three scenes and two monologues, the story observes the title duo’s apparently miserable marriage during the course of a day. A pre-show interlude in the couple’s bedroom sees Marie (Tomei) nervously roaming around and smoking while Bruce (Frank Whaley) restlessly snores. A few times Marie maliciously blows cigarette fumes in the direction of her sleeping husband.
Once he awakes, Marie rains a ceaseless torrent of abusive remarks upon mild-mannered Bruce, who remains oddly oblivious to her vituperative attitude. Later they attend an increasingly drunken dinner party where Bruce’s gregarious social skills appear to better advantage than Marie’s alienated ways.
Still later, they eat dessert in a café where Marie viciously informs Bruce that he has spoiled her entire life and how she intends to leave him. Bruce blandly ignores Marie’s diatribes and they return home, probably to begin their routine all over again on the next day.
Tomei rages away believably and Whaley sloughs off her abuse nonchalantly, but Shawn’s look at an oddly interdependent couple fails to make much of an impression. The presumably satirical sequence at the dinner party as the self-absorbed guests engage in various banal conversations similarly falls flat.
For the party sequence peopled by seven other actors including Tina Benko and Adam Trese, the director and designer Derek McLane seat the characters at a round table that slowly revolves. This stylized rendering of the scene only serves to drain human energy from an already inert play.
“Marie and Bruce” continues through May 7 at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.thenewgroup.com.