REVIEW WRITTEN BY ANDERS BACK
For Digital First Media
Lawyers often say that every divorce is different but the results are the same – it’s final.
But no lawyer ever handled a divorce like that of the fictional Jonathan and Barbara Rose. And anyone who has been through (or witnessed) a bad divorce knows it’s never final. That just might be the moral of “The War of the Roses,” the new and very dark comedy written by Warren Adler now playing at the Delaware Theater Company, based on his 1981 novel that was later made into the 1989 film starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner.
Divorce rates for boomers in the U.S. have recently begun to climb after years of holding at around 50 percent while millenials by the millions are choosing cohabitation over marriage. So playgoers seeing Roses in its latest incarnation are confronted by two questions: first, is marriage a practical, sensible life choice and second, why would anyone want to see a brutal divorce between two unlikeable people played for laughs? The audience at the play’s premiere at DTC answered the second question with a standing ovation at curtain call, perhaps demonstrating that watching successive swarms of black comedy series on cable have prepped them for a play that offers, comparatively, a fairly conventional series of domestic atrocities. It also suggests the first question is largely academic. For Adler and director Bud Martin have concocted a bright, fast-paced and often funny examination of how people make – and unmake – a match with the worst of intentions.
The play opens with Jonathan and Barbara Rose seated in a hellishly dull waiting room or office trying to sort out exactly how their marriage collapsed and left them in limbo. The Roses’ divorce followed an increasingly cluttered path of growing affluence mixed with growing unease — a route not entirely unlike the play itself, which was produced extensively in Europe and South America before arriving in Wilmington this fall with an enhanced script and story that’s being honed for Broadway.
Jonathan, a formerly idealistic lawyer becomes a corporate lobbyist in Washington, D.C. and transforms the idealistic Barbara into a polished but increasingly reluctant domestic goddess. All that remains of their dreams is their mansion, a massive mid-level manager’s plaster palace like ten thousand others that line the cul-de-sacs of Chevy Chase, Reston or Silver Spring. But they have also lavished the house – not home – with expensive art, furnishings and Jonathan’s hand-made additions of wet bar and sauna, perfect for entertaining his clients and lit by a magnificent crystal chandelier that plays a key role at the play’s climax.
The climax nearly arrives prematurely when the curtain rises to reveal scenic designer Paul Tate DePoo III’s interior set of the Rose household, a living/dining space of Trumpian excess that nearly made some audience members swoon.
When Barbara pulls the rungs off Jonathan’s climb up the career ladder by starting her own catering business and refusing to play house he retaliates by sabotaging her product and war is duly declared.
Two Broadway and touring company veterans lead the cast. Jack Noseworthy as Jonathan is suitably arrogant, obnoxious and underhanded but it’s an almost entirely negative role as written which makes this general more foolish than audacious in his attacks and even his moments of tentative affection appear false. Christina DeCicco as Barbara has the leeway to plan an extensive revenge on her husband that uses every emotional and financial weapon she can muster, and she does so with flair and zest. Thwarting Jonathan becomes another career for her and the audience becomes more interested in how Barbara will react than in what new offensive he’s planning against her.
Providing the ammunition for husband and wife are two of the most unethical and cynical lawyers in a comedy script since Lionel Hutz, Esq. of The Simpsons. Broadway and regional theater veterans Lenny Wolpe and Cameron Folmar play, respectively, the opposing divorce lawyers Goldstein and Thurmont, who nearly steal the show with relentless one-liners and Thurmont’s fondness for polo, fly fishing, fencing and other overpriced, preppy pastimes requiring endless costume changes.
No mediation here. These bombastic barristers push and pull the Roses deeper into a vortex of destruction that’s shamefully fun to watch.