Theater review by Juan Michael Porter II
Grappling with midlife “conscious uncoupling” promises to unleash all sorts of demons in Geraldine Aron’s Olivier Award–nominated 2001 play My Brilliant Divorce. That no monsters end up appearing in this potentially hilarious vehicle for a woman of a certain age has everything to do with Melissa Gilbert’s miscasting as a Jewish Anglophile done dirty by her “round-headed” husband. Playing Rachel, a woman who rebelled against her yenta mother by marrying a Brit, Gilbert comes off as a sweet shiksa milquetoast, knocked flat by the sudden turn of events but without a proportionate sense of rage; she is delightfully engaging, but has none of the conspiratorial vengeance one craves from the jilted Rachel. (This is true even when she is mocking the shortcomings of her ex-husband’s anatomy.)
Directed by Aedín Moloney with cutesy musical rim shots interspersed throughout, Divorce is essentially a live-action therapy session between the audience and leading lady as she cycles through the stages of grief. In the tradition of self-deprecating Jewish girls, Rachel has an arsenal of comedic lines at the ready, to deflect her pain in these bitch sessions. But Moloney and Gilbert have not worked out the timing to keep these humorous bits rollicking; instead, they slow things down, perhaps because Gilbert is at her best when Rachel is confronting her loss of identity and purpose. In such moments of vulnerability, one sees the lovely little play that Gilbert and Moloney want to stage, instead of the blisteringly funny ode to getting on with it that Aron actually penned.
New Ohio Theatre (Off Broadway). By Geraldine Aron. Directed by Aedín Moloney. With Melissa Gilbert. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.