Depending on the people involved, and the circumstances of the moment, marriage can be a paradise or a battlefield. For the purpose of drama, it tends to be the latter, from Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” to Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Very much in that tradition is Michael Weller’s “Fifty Words,” the funny, provocative and hugely entertaining comedy-drama running through Oct. 6 in a St. Louis Actors’ Studio production.
Adam (Isaiah Di Lorenzo) and Jan (Julie Layton) may appear to be a typical bourgeois couple with a small and unpredictable son, but at heart they’re anything but. The two share a fond memory of their long-ago first meeting, which quickly took a turn for the kinky. And in some ways, they’re more kindred spirits than combatants.
But tension is in the air as Adam prepares for another out-of-town trip, and Jan grapples with the challenges of being a dancer turned businessperson. Is he hiding something? And more disturbingly, does she even care if he is? Unlike Ibsen’s Nora, Jan is more likely to slam the door in Adam’s face than exit herself.
Perhaps best known for the classic play “Moonchildren,” which captured the irreverence and angst of the ‘60s generation, Weller has a gift for getting to the essence of his characters’ insecurities. Although “Fifty Words” meanders a bit toward the end, his insights into the demands of marriage ring consistently true.
Director John Pierson deftly balances the play’s comedic and dramatic elements while eliciting intriguingly relatable performances from Di Lorenzo and Layton, who make a hilariously — and at times frighteningly — believable couple.
Di Lorenzo, who starred in the recent Actors’ Studio production of “True West,” is terrific as a man who’s at loose ends but struggling to keep his cool. And Layton persuasively conveys Jan’s complex emotions.
“Fifty Words” has plenty to say about negotiating the minefields of marital communication and finding the courage to battle another day.