Marriages are hard work, or so I’m told. Luckily for most of my friends and acquaintances, they’re in highly functioning ones. And they look like they’re in love. Some of them even have children I don’t hate.
Ahmad Coo is a producer and copy editor for the Global Business show on CGTN America. His analysis represents his views alone.
But then, it seems there are more failed marriages in the world- which the superlative play “The Remains” explores in painstaking depth. It had its world premiere at Washington D.C.’s Studio Theatre in May and will be running through June 24, 2018.
It’s written by Ken Urban and directed by David Muse. It stars Maulik Pancholy of Weeds and 30 Rock fame and Glenn Fitzgerald who’s appeared in Six Feet Under and The Sixth Sense.
On the surface, Kevin (played by Pancholy) and Theo (Fitzgerald) are the perfect couple. They’re both very successful in their fields. Kevin’s a professor and Theo is a high-powered corporate lawyer and they live in this gorgeously renovated condo in Boston. Their performances were so emotionally powerful, it was overwhelming at some points.
When we first see the couple, Theo’s busy preparing for a dinner party and Kevin’s hard at work rewriting the intro to his book about the Dutch philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. It’s a scene of typical marital bliss, that is until we realize that both characters’ nerves are completely frayed. Both are on edge and at first, the audience is led to think it something to do with Theo’s parents visiting.
We eventually learn it’s not about tensions with the in-laws but of a marriage on the verge of collapse- with both Kevin and Theo considering a divorce. But “The Remains” isn’t your typical break-up story, with the requisite dramatic blowups (yes, there are some in the play but they’re not overwrought), the hard-earned lessons of a failed relationships, and the promise of new loves on the horizon.
“The Remains” isn’t about the redemptive power of love either. If anything, Ken Urban’s play kicks Cupid in the privates, rips the audience’s collective heart out of their chests and stomps on it. It’s not a play that reaffirms marriages. Instead, it calls into question why we even get into relationships at all.
We find out that everyone in the play has- at one time or another- cheated on their significant others. We find out that Theo’s parents were both serial cheaters- sometimes having multiple lovers at times- almost like all the characters in the play are terrified of being alone even if they’re married.
But the romantically inclined may think that relationships or marriages built on more solid ground can survive any storm- whether it be infidelity or a tragic event like the death of a child. Sure, I can cite several examples in my life where couples have stayed together through the good times and bad. However looking at the global divorce rates (up 251 percent up since 1960), I wonder if more couples are more inclined to giving up the ghost than keeping up appearances.
Ken Urban doesn’t want to make it easy for the audience to accept the pending divorce between Theo and Kevin. Despite the obvious infidelity, Urban undermines the the reasons the pair use as excuses for separating. It’s not a clear cut case of who cheated on who. Instead, Urban slowly reveals the complex web of lies and deceit between the two-as well as the flawed relationship of Theo’s parents. No party is blameless.
As the play reaches its climax, Urban brings Hegel’s concept of tragedy into the mix via Theo’s dad who starts talking about his days as a philosophy professor. According to the father, Hegel’s take on tragedy arises when the hero assumes what he’s doing is right but in doing so violates another position or truth that is just as right or correct. So the hero’s decision leads to a one-sidedness that’s defined by greatness and guilt. And when the guilt gets to be too much, the hero is paralyzed, unable to make a choice.
That inability for Kevin and Theo to make a definitive choice is what ultimately leads to the tragic end of the play, even though both believe they were in the right and (mostly) justified for their actions. Not making a choice, however, is also a choice, albeit a cowardly one which leads to the dissolution of a marriage.
But instead of relying on emotional pyrotechnics from the two main characters, the director David Muse takes a very interesting approach in trying to visualize the slow disintegration of a shared life- something that is simultaneously oddly detached yet emotionally devastating.