The local husband-and-wife acting team of Moira Keefe and Charlie Oates couldn't be much different from each other. Yet they have managed to stay married for nine years, and they share their often dark and mostly hilarious secrets in the show they wrote and perform together, Staying Married. This is an odd, lively evening of theater--ingeniously performed but a little uneven in the writing and a little too prone to the wisecrack.
On a bare black stage with a platform to one side that's suggestive of balconies and higher plains of thought, Moira and Charlie separately unravel the lives they led before they met, from childhood to their mutual alma mater, the University of Montana. She fantasized about marriage and dreamed of the perfect wedding as a little girl; weddings never crossed his mind. She rhapsodized about the mystical aspects of the married state; he thought marriage meant he could have sex anytime he wanted it.
They both had a lot to learn.
And this autobiographical play explains how they tried to learn it: by living together before they got married. He tells of visiting her Irish-Catholic kinfolk (her father refers to him as his "sin-in-law"). Bewildered by all the Keefe clan's emotional displays--the angry fights to the weepy reconciliations--Charlie feels out of place and sometimes downright invisible. By contrast, when the happy couple visit his parents, Moira is transported into a kind of Ward-and-June-Cleaver Presbyterian household as foreign to her as Martian culture.
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At one hilarious point, the pair satirizes professional counseling. With their relationship on the brink of collapse, they visit a therapist (played by Charlie). He's a preposterous individual given to psychobabble, but he still manages to keep them from each other's throats long enough for Moira to realize that Charlie is a better man than anyone she has ever dated.
They finally decide to marry, but with a total budget of $133 and some odd cents, Moira's ideal wedding it is not. The bohemian affair in white, black and red is marred by a series of disasters any superstitious person could only label "bad signs." Charlie and Moira get worried, and after the wedding Moira descends into a deep depression. Charlie learns to be patient, to speak softly, to clean the house--especially the bathroom--and to put the toilet seat down. He's making points as a sensitive Nineties kind of guy.
Throughout the play, Moira wears a simple white dress, Charlie wears the (used) tux he was married in. The only prop is a long rope that can alternately stand in for a bridal bouquet, separate them like a wall, or tie them together in metaphorical entanglements. Moira projects impish independence--she's bright, troubled and graceful--while Charlie is a master of physical comedy and sarcasm. They're intermittently delightful together, but they're most surefooted when they're nastiest--which may account for the fact that the play includes a running series of put-downs. Some of these ring true enough to keep the audience laughing knowingly, but sometimes the sarcasm smells as stale as year-old wedding cake.
They tick each other off in various ways as they stumble on together, but the tender moments, they tell us, are enough to hold the marriage intact. In the end, though, we're left with the impression that the pair have analyzed what's wrong with their marriage but have failed to reveal enough of what's right with it. Marriage is harder to maintain than it is to abandon, and the lukewarm, feel-good explanations offered here don't stand up to the hilarious unpleasantries too well. There's something to be said for people who struggle to make their marriage work. But we need to see more of what this couple loves in each other in order to buy their routine as theater--or philosophy.