by MELANIE BOWMAN
When the question of marriage equality arises, solemnity prevails. The seriousness of the issue generally excludes comedy, though derision is never far from the discussion. Better (or) Worse, presented by the Freshwater Theatre Company, takes on marriage as an institution with seriousness, realism, laughter, and hope.
The play is a series of short scenes with a variety of settings, tones, and staging. Scenes that could come straight from romantic comedies are frequent, but so are more abstract ones making great use of lighting and gesture. The décor is spare and creatively recycles props. With the addition of an afghan, a church pew becomes a couch. The low rumble of trains that occasionally passed seemed part of the show, adding an element of foreboding danger in one scene in particular. The effect of these staging choices is unity within potential chaos.
There are also a dizzying number of characters, played by not a few actors. From an Army wife waiting to hear from her husband on deployment, a retired couple, a bisexual woman marrying a man, to a startlingly precocious teenager describing her gay parent’s planned wedding, a variety of characters explores individual, situation-specific challenges centered around the institution of marriage. In many scenes, characters mention the gender of a partner casually, often as an afterthought within a monologue. The effect generalizes the discussion of marriage to all couples and also puts the spotlight on some of the less visible members of the GLBT community.
The entre-acts featured readings from a wide range of texts from several religious traditions. Texts highlighted both spiritual and legal aspects of marriage, sometimes setting them in stark contrast. These scenes mirrored the scriptural readings that so often form a part of wedding ceremonies, and constituted a creative re-appropriation of the convention.
Depictions of unhappy marriages generally feature a list of the social expectations associated with marriage. Happy ones, straight and queer alike, show couples facing change and the vulnerability it creates, together. This diversity and multitude of examples, as well as the stark realism of some scenes, do not constitute an attack on marriage or a dismissal of its importance in our lives. Rather, this play dramatizes change without chaos, communicating a powerful message with good, compelling theater.
Better (or) Worse, presented by the Freshwater Theatre Company at the Nimbus Theatre, 1517 Central Avenue NE, Minneapolis, September 7-22, 2012. Tickets $15-35. Proceeds go to Minnesotans United for All Families. Information at 612.816.8479 or http://www.freshwatertheatre.com.