[vc_row 0=""][vc_column][vc_column_text 0=""]Melissa Gilbert in “My Brilliant Divorce.”
PHOTO BY CAROL ROSEGG
By Orla O’Sullivan
“I sleep in the middle of the bed,” Melissa Gilbert, star of “My Brilliant Divorce,” says at one point in the solo show, reveling in not having to accommodate herself to anyone. At another, she wants nothing more than to cuddle against a man like an interlocking spoon.
Over the course of 90 minutes, Gilbert’s character, Rachel, struggles to find balance between the conflicting human needs for security and independence.
The ground gives way beneath her when her husband of several decades announces—his dinner in the oven, his laundry in the basket—that he is leaving on the spot. And, in swift succession, their only child emigrates.
It’s fitting that a company named Fallen Angel Theatre Company produced such a play.
This production emphasizes some of the ways in which the divorce of Geraldine Aron’s title is less than brilliant. (Fallen Angel’s founder, Aedín Moloney, who directed and produced the play, now running on Christopher Street in Manhattan, said she wanted the pathos, not just the laughs, as emphasized in an Olivier-nominated West End production with Dawn French.)
The laughs still dominate in this version, adapted to make the main character a New Yorker. Gilbert seems to relate most to Rachel’s New York sassiness. (Her bio included thanks “to her two ex-husbands for showing her exactly what she doesn’t want in life”.)
Divorce is a topic to which everyone can relate—as evidenced by the program notes, which became another funny aspect of this show. Many among the crew added a comment on divorce to their bios.
With more single women than ever, Galway-born Aron’s 2001 play still feels very much of the moment.
It’s a fair bet that women are more likely to enjoy it than men, their folly laid too bare in several characters, notably the ex.
The first woman he traded Rachel in for was so young, Rachel calls her “the Spanish embryo,” while the ex- with his Grecian 2000 “looks like a 2,000-year old Greek!”
Not that she’s really bitter, more touching as she develops an obsession with tweezers; reads guides on how older women should hold themselves (palms up to hide veins) and tortures herself with gossip she gets on the new woman. “Lips like sausages!” her Russian cleaner reports, while Rachel inwardly laments, “Mine are disappearing.”
Her attempts at dating, meanwhile, include a 60-year old who coolly described himself as 40. “I saw a little man in the distance and as he got closer he didn’t get any bigger.”
And then there’s the small matter of financial survival, years out of her chosen profession.
In a coupled, cruel world, she is rushed off the phone by her mother and a friend on opposite sides of the world, both preferring to watch, “Who wants to be a millionaire?”
At that moment, the show’s theme music swells and lights flash on stage—one of many examples of how this great production makes clever use of a simple set.
There’s just Gilbert and an Ottoman stool with a few layers of sheer panels behind her. She weaves through them for a dream sequence. New Years’ fireworks are projected behind them to convey the passing years. Ken and Barbie dolls emerge from the Ottoman as proxies, fighting in therapy. And when Rachel is becoming defeated she pulls out floppy sweatpants to obscure her form-fitting clothes.
John McDermott did set design, Jessica Kasprisin lighting and Florian Stabb of The Rep’s spectacular “Emperor Jones” did sound design.
Acting highlights (excluding a plot spoiler) included Gilbert playing her visiting elderly mother, her great display of physical acting on a train, and her hilarious visit to a sex shop on behalf of “a friend.”
A male shopkeeper’s mocking tone over the PA deserved credit, for one, but the male voiceovers weren’t attributed. Gilbert played all female characters, including those voiced over.
When Gilbert came on stage she was instantly recognizable as the child-actress who played Laura in the 1970s TV hit, “Little House on The Prairie.” A sex shop? What would Ma say?
“My Brilliant Divorce,” starring Melissa Gilbert and directed by Aedín Moloney, is at the New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher St., N.Y., NY, until April 8. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]