Meet Simon and Kim – passionate. About their cause (we’ll get to that in a moment), about each other (when we meet them they’re taking a cozy bath together) and about their work which (currently) is a documentary film they’re shooting called The Un-Marrying Project. As it stands, this play IS the film. Or is it the other way around?
So passionate are they about their work, their relationship and their cause that it all blends together for them in one big ball of “Here we are! Simon and Kim!” (Exclaimed in unison, no less. Well … after some practice). They’re so deeply connected that they even have joint panic attacks. (Awwww – cute). But is all this passion enough to get them through their act of civil disobedience – The Un-Marrying Project: documenting the process of several married couples who willingly get un-married (yes, also known as divorced) in the name of protest … living apart until ALL people can be married EVERYWHERE? In other words … they’ve decided that until Gay Marriage is legal, no marriage should be valid and several brave couples are taking up the cause, allowing their journey to be filmed. So here’s the question … can they all stay committed to the cause? To the film? To each other? Is their committment as strong as their passion?
In The Un-Marrying Project writer Larry Kunofsky has taken a controversial matter and then turned it inside out. This is no easy topic and Kunofsky doesn’t gloss over any of it. With the overarching premise being that we’re watching two documentary film makers (Documentarians!) create a record for posterity, we gain access into nooks of participants lives in ways that perhaps they wouldn’t be so quick to divulge.
Participating in Simon (Nic Grelli) and Kim’s (Jolly Abraham) documentary are several couples of varying ages, backgrounds, and even sexual orientations. What’s refreshing is that Simon and Kim chose to include (and by that I mean Larry Kunofsky chose to write) same-sex couples who married legally in Massachusetts which says a lot for how this play is going to cover the topic. All these couples have agreed to physically and legally separate, living apart for a year (which is how long you must be legally separated in New York State to get a divorce) in the name of Gay Marriage - they won’t re-marry until everyone can get married. As Simon and Kim admit right up front “We haven’t really figured out an ending for our documentary yet.” And therein lies the beauty of this play. Because, of course … it shows that while everyone wants to do SOMETHING, there are ramifications that can’t always be foreseen, let alone taken into account or planned for. So what happens when a handful of people who want to do good make a radical move fueled only by their passion for the cause?
After a community of voices throws out all the verbal imagery surrounding the issue – both pro and con – (everything from “Come on, People! A woman married a roller coaster! It’s time to let people marry people!” to “Only people are this perverted! Animals aren’t gay! They have normal sex.”) we begin to meet the couples who are Un-Marrying for the sake of change.
First up is are the Kramms (Bill Weeden and Katie Atcheson) - an elderly couple married in 1941 who are excited to join the project in an effort to break free of their WASP-y Westchester mores. They are “fairly certain” that gays live in Westchester … they just haven’t run across any. With their only son deceasd they find themselves the last of their bloodline and feel moved to do something … and so they choose to spend their twilight years as activists participating in this project.
Next we meet Ephraim & Tzipora, (Brian Miskell and Diana Oh) a young Jewish couple from Teaneck New Jersey who are deeply religious, but only recently. “Kind of like Born Again Christians. But also actually nothing like Born Again Christians.” Having come from a more worldly background they have more experience with all types of people. While they know that being gay is against the Torah they’ve also “seen enough of the world to know that loving your neighbor for any good they do is more important than hating them for anything bad they do”.
The third pair is Janos & Andy, (Abraham Amkpa and Brian Miskell) a Brooklyn gay couple who were legally married in the State of Massachusetts. They recognize they’re the lucky ones who had the resources to cross the state lines in order to get married. So in solidarity for those not as fortunate, they’re un-marrying.
The next couple is Maggie & Wendy (Katie Atcheson and Diana Oh). They’re lesbians – also hailing from Brooklyn, also legally married in Massachusetts, who are divorcing in the original spirit of civil rights.
The final couple are Peter & Hope (Abraham Amkpa and Katie Atcheson). They are perhaps the least likely of the group to be participating; Peter is a blowhard and Hope is a passive follower who diverts the awkward moments of the dinner party with bland non-sequiturs, but Peter’s brother (now deceased) was gay (“A homo” as Peter refers to him) and their support of the project is as misguided as their marriage but equally as necessary to commemorating Henry’s memory.
Oh, and there are some dream sequences involving Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins too (Abraham Amkpa and Katie Atcheson again). We’ll get to that later. (Maybe).
From here, Kunofsky does an amazing job of weaving a story that starts with the brilliant fire of newly sparked passion which then quickly (or not so quickly, depending on the couple) turns into something a little less than ideal. After all, the notion of not just talking the talk but walking the walk is a very powerful one – and each couple gets enlivened by the idea of doing something to aid the cause. However, committing to the act is where things become difficult. Divorce as a choice for two people who are no longer in love is hard enough on the psyche … now have that process invoked upon two people who are actually still quite in love or at the very least certainly not OUT of love and the effects can be devastating. How often have we, as human beings, seen something from this end of the situation -working two jobs, serving on a committee, taking in an ailing parent- and said “I can handle it! I’ll manage”. Its the very core of “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” And as The Un-Marrying Project progresses all the couples involved – including the big ball of ”Here we are! Simon and Kim!” find themselves and their situations changing as their “flesh” becomes weak … and sometimes even their spirit.
The progress – and the ending - make a very powerful statement about exactly how necessary it is to twist your own life around in order to help a greater cause.
The cast of merely seven are one of the strongest ensembles I’ve ever seen assembled as they all pull at least triple duty with a few smaller roles for each as well. There were actual moments when I was convinced that someone new had joined the ensemble mid-way even though I knew it was someone I’d been watching the whole time. Not only do each of the actors have to juggle multiple roles, they must convincingly move from being partnered in a loving straight relationship in one scene to a loving gay relationship in the next with the same intensity, chemistry and believability. To single out one actor or character would be a disservice to the others – though this is an ensemble cast helmed by two strong main characters this is really more like a series of individual showcases. Under Rachel Eckerling’s intuitive direction each actor brings Kunofsky’s wonderful script to an even higher level, and in turn they each simultaneously win (as well as break) your heart.
The Un-Marrying Project is a story of triumph. It is a story of trials. It is a story of trying to do what’s right when what’s right isn’t necessarily what’s best for two people. And ultimately, The Un-Marrying Project is one of the most intelligent, entertaining, enlightening, innovative pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long time. This one is not to be missed.
GAY PLAYS FOR STRAIGHT PEOPLE (and Also Gay People) The Un-Marrying Project Written by Larry Kunofsky Directed by Rachel Eckerling (running in rep with The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret) . Paradise Factory 64 East 4th Street New York, NY 10003 . Remaining Performances: 15, 19, 21, 23, 27 & 29 at 8pm and April 16, 17 & 30 at 2pm
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