Before Wallace Shawn’s Marie and Bruce even begins, you know Marie, played by the capable Marisa Tomei, is profoundly unhappy. Tossing and turning, coughing and hacking on her side of the bed, the focal point of the first scene, her gaze occasionally falls on her husband Bruce. With a look of disgust falling directly on his head, you know it’s more than the flu that’s making her so miserable.
When the lights go down, Marie informs the audience in no uncertain terms how she feels about her husband, the “piece of shit.”
The anger and frustration comes out in Tomei’s well-acted opening monologue, but as it drags on I became inpatient for the proof; I wanted her piece of shit husband to speak. Yet when he does, all he gives her in spite of her constant, merciless verbal abuse is a “Yes, darling,” the spirit of extreme cheeriness broken only once by an underlying tone of annoyance. They discuss a party, where thankfully there will be others who can maybe save Bruce from Marie and Marie from herself.
The best scenes came during the party sequence, draped in 70s music, inhabited with women men and women in flowy disco garb. Bruce hops happily from one conversation to the next, flirting with the women while Marie lists about, dropping in and out of conversations before finally giving into boredom and exhaustion and falling asleep on the table.
It’s the other party guests that steal the scenes at the dinner table. At first, it appears they are going to be little more than props, with their conversations blending into the beat of music as the table and their seats rotate slowly atop a turntable. Then the spotlight picks out certain exchanges for the audience to focus on. One particularly well-acted and relatable monologue comes from a woman obviously frustrated with a very unthoughtful gift. Another amusingly outdated tussle pits the party’s host against a man who suggests that some day machines will be able to read books for us. “Then why teach kids to read. Someday there will be no books!” (the audience seems to finger its Kindles guiltily).
While the majority of the show gives us insight into the mind of Marie, as the party winds down it’s Bruce who’s allowed to address the audience, telling a story of his day before the party; seeing a pretty girl but deciding to play to safe, rather than asking her to join him at a motel room, he goes alone. Dropping the incessant “darling” for an extended period of time, Bruce seems more like a man than Marie’s punching bag.
The show’s emotional climax, Marie’s confrontation of Bruce, lends little insight into the somewhat flat characters. Marie’s constant, seemingly unfounded brutal attack on Bruce seems cruel, especially when he lets down his overly cheery façade and seems to break down.
Overall Marie and Bruce was well acted with a great set, but the script left too many unanswered questions.