The following review is based on the Sunday, September 4th performance, which featured Laura Walker as Carol, Ian Nemser as Brian, Bri Ana Wagner as Tanya, Marc Antonio Pritchett as Ken, Patricia Mizen as Angie, and Corbin Timbrook as Doug. These roles are shared with Kelly Desarla, Albert Garnica, Swisyzinna Moore, Anthony Backman, Marie Pettit Gregson, and Michael Camacho, respectively.
Southern California has been home to an endless number of plays throughout the years, and while most have compelling moments here and there that resonate, only an elite few have something meaningful to say in every scene. Suffice it to say, SkyPilot Theatre’s production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Divorce is not only ceaselessly insightful throughout its 80-minute duration, but it also manages to convey its complex message about relationships with an incisive flair that features both clear and subtle brushstrokes on the topic of marriages on the brink — evoking laughter, deep thought, and even tears before the final bows.
Much of the success of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Divorce, which plays through September 11th at the Two Roads Theatre in Studio City, before potentially migrating to the New Collective L.A. to extend its run, is owed to playwright Jeff Gould. In what marks his fifth play about marriage and love, Gould has uncovered golden observations about the institution of marriage and how it can blossom just as easily as it can dissolve. But rather than solely offering an erudite dissertation on the subject, Gould masterfully weaves emotionally diverse discussion points between couples who, in addition to telling stories as separate pairings, manage to tell a greater story as their sum on the stage.
Such is the case here where three couples, distinguished by the stages of their marriages — featuring one without children, another with two young children, and one with a young-adult daughter — find themselves in a room waiting for a divorce mediator who is terminally tardy. As a result, the six individuals talk, divulging more than they planned, getting in each other’s way, but at the same time, ultimately becoming the solution to one another’s woes. And while most of the proceedings transpire in the present, three flashback scenes, reminding of happier times, furnish additional context into the hows and whys for the conflicts that have cast dark clouds over the pairings. Not a single breath or step is squandered — an unequivocal assist to director Marc Antonio Pritchett, who ensures a brilliant pace.
Pritchett also portrays one of the beleaguered husbands in Ken, a lawyer, who committed infidelity against his understandably short-tempered actress/model wife, Tanya, played by Bri Ana Wagner. Through their wonderful performances, Pritchett and Wagner expound upon the obvious and hidden deceptions within a marriage, which weighs the seemingly unforgivable against the possibility of forgiveness — as difficult as that might be. Interestingly, the erosion of their characters’ love has not eliminated a shared lust, which somehow remains. Pritchett and Wagner examine this paradox, and the layers underneath, with a careful attention to detail.
In contrast to the mutual carnality of Ken and Tanya are Carol, realized by Laura Walker, and Brian, depicted by Ian Nemser. Carol and Brian have ostensibly been sexless for a while, likely due to how Carol perceives of her too-nice and incessantly apologetic husband. However, Carol tends to warp and embellish the truth to suit her aims and, not to mention brandish her affection for her new beau over the phone — which Brian is keen to point out. Walker and Nemser skillfully never let up on the tension between their characters as they revel in their boisterousness and acrimony, underpinned by an uproarious zaniness and heartache that punctuate their exchanges. Moreover, Nemser provides much of the play’s levity packaged in the form of his character’s frustration, while Walker becomes the voice of those who feel as though their partners don’t pay full attention to them.
Last, but not least, are the most mature couple, at least on the outside; they are Doug, portrayed by Corbin Timbrook, and Angie, rendered by Patricia Mizen. Doug, who is a contractor worth $5 million, is at odds with his estranged wife, a $200/hour therapist, over $50,000. As the two other couples legitimately point out, Doug and Angie’s dispute is a ludicrous one, but it is about more than just money; it is a symptom of their grief. The two lost their 18-year-old son four years prior; and, in fact, it pains Doug so much he has taken on a laissez-faire attitude, manifested as hysterical one-liners, delivered with rib-tickling precision by Timbrook. Angie, however, is quieter until she uses her psychological expertise to solve the riddles plaguing the other two marriages. Mizen does this with a calculating care born out of her persona’s good intentions, not dissimilar to Sherlock Holmes putting the pieces together in the denouement, in one of many satisfying monologues. Better yet, when their characters finally communicate without walls, Timbrook and Mizen do Gould’s lines a fantastic justice, leaving the audience with a relatable and visceral feeling that simmers in their hearts long after the conclusion.
If there ever was a play that manages to take on the intricate narratives that take hold within a marriage and do so with a deftness that illuminates different perspectives, justified and unreasonable in their own ways, it is Jeff Gould’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Divorce. Not only will attendees be howling with laughter, they’ll also find themselves looking inwardly about how they’ve acted during their own relationships, coming to terms with their insecurities in hindsight and grateful for the epiphanies they’ve grown from over the years.
For tickets to the last two performances of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Divorce at the Two Roads Theatre in Studio City, CA (on Saturday, September 10th at 8 pm and on Sunday, September 11th at 3 pm), please visit: divorce.brownpapertickets.com