“As secretary to the infamous J.R. Ewing, Sly Lovegren (played by Deborah Rennard) watched her boss’s marriage to Sue Ellen end in divorce – not once, but twice. During her tenure at Dallas’s Ewing Oil, Sly’s own marriage came to an end. In 2012, Rennard’s union to Oscar-winning screen writer Paul Haggis was also dissolved. Safe to say that Deborah Rennard knows a thing or two about marital strife. Now, Rennard the actor has made the sly transformation to Rennard the playwright with her first fully staged script FOR WORSE, now playing at NJ Rep in Long Branch.
The title alone should give ticket buyers a clue as to the sort of play Rennard has written. As the lights go up, Karen Richards (Kristin Griffith) is hearing from her husband Peter (Ed Kershen) that he’s been having an affair. The 50-something couple are successful gallery owners and art collectors with adult children. Peter soon discloses that he’s been having an affair with 26 year-old Italian artist Lucia (Daniela Mastropietro). Almost inexplicably, and much to Peter’s chagrin, Karen is in a forgiving mood and is ready to work through this blip on their matrimonial radar. Karen is not the sort to fail at anything – let alone marriage. Peter, however, has other plans; plans which may or may not also include Ashley (Angie Tennant), his obviously incapable young gallery assistant.
Rennard has taken to heart the sage advice often given to new writers to “write what you know.” Her characters and dialogue have a nice mix of comic and dramatic moments. While the play rarely sheds any new light on the “for worse” part of the marriage vows, it certainly presents the situations convincingly and with plenty of entertainment value. Rennard is massively helped by the exquisite production supplied by NJ Rep.
The show’s greatest asset is Kristin Griffith as Karen. While the play occasionally drifts, Griffith is continually engaging and watchable. As Rennard’s surrogate, she had better be. As talented as he is, Ed Kershan’s Peter can do little to avoid becoming the evening’s hapless schmuck. Rennard’s feelings about cheating husbands are all too clear. Lucia and Ashley, the other women in Peter’s life (and Rennard’s narrative), are capably played by fiery Daniela Mastropietro and quirky Angie Tennant, although there’s the nagging feeling that these women might be best relegated to off-stage characters – especially the fumbling Ashley. Director Evan Bergman nicely keeps things as balanced and as brisk as possible.
NJ Rep’s production values only get better and better – which bodes well for their eventual move to their new (larger) home at the nearby West End Arts Center. Set designer Jessica Parks’ West Village Brownstone is picture perfect, with lots of art pieces on hand to remind you of the characters’ professional lives.
If you are one who drools over fashionable handbags and shoes, FOR WORSE showcases some really noteworthy accessories smartly selected by costume designer Michael Bevins. With each new world premiere NJ Rep enters into a sort of marriage with its playwrights, creating a partnership that can end for better, or for worse. In this case, the result is clearly the former.
FOR WORSE is onstage through April 10th at New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey. For tickets or information please visit website or call 732.229.3166.
Reviewed by Michael T. Mooney
at New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch NJ
Friday, March 11, 2016
Photo by SuzAnne Barabas