Veteran Stand-ups Mark Schiff and Steve Shaffer create comedy theatrical masterpiece.

Married People: A Comedy – Theatre Review


Married People: A Comedy’ proves one thing.  Honesty in relationships begin at home…indeed with ourselves. 

“Don’t miss the amazing chance to see what will surely be a memorable Broadway hit. Seinfeld meets The Honeymooners by way of Dr. Phil.  Married People: A Comedy is funny, insightful, and extremely well-crafted by Hollywood’s finest comedy-makers.  It made me laugh and stop to deeply think. If I had the money, I’d buy the rights to the film!”  – Steven Alan Green, The Jewish Journal

First off.  Uber there.

Parking is shit.  You need a fucking lawyer and a rabbi just to get decent parking near the theatre.  I think they might have valet.  I’ll check.  Don’t have time.  I will later.  Secondly.  Don’t miss this show.  I’ll explain below why.  Thirdly, the audience is stupid.  That is to say, there’s a great disconnect between the Orwellian shackles limiting the minds of the most sophisticated audiences and the finest of performance art.  It’s called PC over thinking, but it’s bigger than that.  It’s the audience forgetting they’re watching characters in a play, not reality.  More on that below.  First an overview of the play Married People: A Comedy.

HENRY AVIVA

A Stanley Kowalski in Doc Martins

Two couples.  Jake and Aviva and Henry and Cookie.  Jake is a bit of a mild-mannered stuffed shirt, Aviva lives up to her eponymous name with plenty of “Viva!” in her.  Cookie is a complex woman who co-opted her own womanhood at the behest of marriage.  She happens to be married to Henry, a real lug.  A Stanley Kowalski in Doc Martins.  A guy whose personal enlightenment is that he knows he must have Monday Night Football with an equal balance of bedtime with his betrothed or he’ll go nuts.

Sit-com type director

The play is deftly directed by Rick Shaw, and yes, I fully expected a heavily breathing Chinese man running in front of him.  I’ll give you a minute.  Back to the review.  The play runs as 14 set pieces separated by blackouts/set changes to the tune of Sinatra’s Love and Marriage or Jimmy Durante’s Glory of Love and the like. The set is brilliantly designed; rotating slats, which one minute are upright beds which the actors lean against to give a birds eye view of them in bed, then turn during blackout to reveal a neon beer sign and they’re now in a bar, slinging them back between unleashed words.

The two couples are friends.

And they both have problems.  Issues in the bedroomJAKE AND MICHELLE abound as negotiable currency as in any business agreement, such as marriage.  But also they both have children, whom both couples talk about, but we never see.  Everyone is getting along most of the time, going to Yoga class, planning this, planning that.  But when Cookie decides to play therapist to maybe solve some of these issues between partners (and all because she took an online class or two), that’s when the play really begins.  And what’s brilliant about this play is that, just like real therapy (take it from one who has researched plenty) the unsolvable never becomes apparent during the group therapy sessions themselves.  The burning hidden issues reveal themselves afterwards in real life.

 What are we really?

And that’s the most interesting part of the play.  For our minds can never truly be fully aware of everything at the same time.  That would be like making love and realizing you left the oven on.  In fact, whether the playwrights Steve Shaffer and Mark Schiff (who also serve as producers) knew it or not, each couple symbolizes one person and in fact, both couples together – all four characters – represent one ideal person.  Because disloyal readers, think about it.  What are we really?  Do I, for example, ever feel/act/think like bullish Henry?  But I’m really mild-mannered Jake.  Or am I ever excited with big impossible ideas like Cookie who has been the ad-hoc therapist for longer than she can remember, with Henry as her primary patient?  And what about the soul of the play, Aviva.  She represents the higher selves, the spiritual self.  The moral self.  We are all those things throughout our lives; indeed throughout the day.

Billy don’t be a zero

Henry, who played by Paul Parducci, is absolutely the most singular brilliant comedic theatrical actor I’ve ever seen live in theatre, simply can’t get behind that his and Cookie’s son Billy is gay, let alone that he’s getting married and the church warned the big man that if he attends his own son’s wedding, he’s going to hell along with the actual sodomite, Billy the son.  Billy don’t be a zero.  At one point, Cookie confronts the problem head on, as it were.  “What bothers you most about Billy being gay?

A bold opinion

Henry responds with the enthusiasm of Richard Dreyfuss finally being believed that the mash potato mountain he’s building in Close Encounters actually means real aliens.  Henry says: “Being gay!” Which is a brilliant line because it could’ve easily been Henry’s own personal admonition.  And, what happens.  Does the audience laugh?  No fucking way.  Why?  Because the audience is PC?  Maybe. This is Hollywood.  Here’s my theory and this has been on my mind for personal reasons – ever since I came back from an illustrious multi-coloured comedy adventure in England and back to the dull as dishwater bandwidth of comedy acceptability of America.  You ready? I’m gonna lose a lot of friends on this one.  Here goes.

THE AUDIENCE IS STUPID!!!!

That’s right.  I’ve said it.  I don’t mean it literally.  The audience in attendance was smart as a whip, but they were overly-reserved. That’s all I mean by “stupid”. Maybe Mr. Shaw, our fine director here, could fix this by signaling to the audience where to laugh, by having the actors hold their lines for laughs. In other words, say the line, then wait for the audience to get it, like a good stand-up does; but that would slow the play’s snappy pace down considerably.  But it wasn’t just that line by far. AUDIENCE SMALLER That line, by the way.  “Because he’s gay!” is very very very very funny because we are watching a character, who has clearly been set up as American working class, who loves Monday Night Football and loves to screw his wife and has no clue why she’s the least bit unhappy with him.

We are supposed to laugh

The irony is that Henry thinks he has self-awareness.  He sort of does because he is aware and outwardly accepts that he’s an animal.  But he doesn’t really, because he doesn’t know (yet, no spoilers) that the part of himself he’s not aware of is how much of him is molded from stereotype and the church and how much of him is truly his own man.  So when he says: “Because he’s gay!”  We are supposed to laugh.  NOT because we’re laughing at gay people!  No.  Because we’re supposed to be laughing at bad people or in this case, bad traits of good people.

There’s a big difference.

It’s what made Archie Bunker lovable, in spite of the fact that if he had a billion or so he’d be in Trump’s cabinet right now.  We are (or should be) laughing at the lovable Henry’s stupidity. And that’s not where it ends; that’s where it begins.  In other words, the entire play is woven with fine silk threads of misunderstandings, miscommunications, assumptions, expectations, prejudice and class-bating.  At more than a couple of points, I was literally the only one laughing out loud in a theatre of over a hundred and I had to balance a writing pad on my knee and sing Oh Susanna. Don’t get me wrong; the audience was laughing plenty throughout the play.  They just cowered where they should’ve leapt.

Hey that’s a good quote

The finely crafted lines in Married People: A Comedy are layered on top of one another when they need to be and other times sat quietly next to each other.  Like a finely laid out comedy Smorgasbord, Married People: A Comedy is an entertainment feast.  Hey that’s a good quote.

Like a finely laid out comedy Smorgasbord, Married People: A Comedy is an entertainment feast.  Hey that’s a good quote. – Steven Alan Green, Jewish Journal

Great cast makes the difference

As I mentioned earlier about Paul Parducci; he was great.  Enough about him; don’t want to give him a bigger head or indeed bigger Doc Martins.

Andy Lauer as Jake is the kind of actor who every director and producer would salivate to have because Lauer carries his script water, but never spills a drop.  He plays it real, he plays it calm, even when Aviva is haranguing him for not acknowledging the import of her being a Jew; and when he tries but fails it just breaks your heart.

Kylie Delre brings suffragette Cookie to life by the best way an actor can do.  By emphasizing what’s important in the text of the script.  Not every word written by even Shakespeare has as much resonance as the rest, and Kylie has the kind of actor’s instinct rarely found on any local theatre circuit.  She knows how to interpret script and understand story-arc.  She plays it big; she plays it soft.  All the while, completely, and utterly, engaging

But my pick of the litter is definitely Michelle Bernard as Aviva.  Wow.  What authenticity.  I’m still shpilkes over the absolution she rained down on poor little Jake.  I’m a judgmental guy. I can be a real prick, no doubt.  That’s because – in my mind – there’s always a bone to pick and that bone is the one that bugs us all.  All art, entertainment or hanging on a wall, has to have the one element to bring it to life, to give the viewer meaning.  And that is authenticity.  To portray true authenticity is the artist’s ultimate goal.  Because nobody really knows what that is anyway.  That’s why a great night at the theatre is so important; it gives a sense that things actually make sense.

SCHIFF AND SHAFFERMarried People: A Comedy co-creators are the double-cream of the crop.

So many great minds go into creating the finest comedy art and Mark Schiff and Steve Shaffer are indeed full comedy cholesterol.  A veteran perpetually young comedian of over 30 years, Mark comes from the vintage village years of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, the former whom Mark tours with as opening act.  Mark is one of those guys who is the comic’s comic and for anyone that’s a certain curse.  For us, the audience of Married People: A Comedy; his loss is our gain.  Steve Shaffer, a Philly born stand-up himself, appeared on Carson and toured with Carlin.  He does the impossible.  He’s funny and likable. Jesus.  I personally hate him for that.  Maybe he’s Canadian.

A master conductor at the helm of the theatrical symphony

Rick Shaw the writer/producer/director is known for directing television sitcoms amongst his quiver of arrowed credentials.  His credits are off the charts. In fact they’re off your computer.  Shaw keeps the pace moving forward and gives every actor the chance to freshly unfold their characters in a way commensurate with the best productions of Hamlet.  I’ve seen Peter O’Toole in Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman.  I’ve seen Al Pacino in Mamet’s American Buffalo.  The hardest piece of the puzzle is having a master conductor at the helm of the theatrical symphony.  Shaw knows his onions and meticulously slices and serves them to us as sweet tasting and yet tear-inducing between the laughs.

For great art to survive and indeed flourish, the early audiences must up their game.  It’s not television.  This is live theatre.

Married People: A Comedy is brilliant.

It touches upon what it really means to be a person of faith in both religion and the bigger agreement we make with God: Our betrothed and to love our children no matter what.  Accept them by accepting your own flaws, faults.  Cutting-edge understanding my not so hidden thesis about the audience not knowing their role; that’s paramount.  This work of comedy art deserves a real chance, in front of a much less inhibited audience.  Maybe that’s you, sitting at home.  And, Spoiler Alert: Some big important Hollywood person go see this show and secure the rights to develop into a series.

Married People: A Comedy is the next Seinfeld, only if Seinfeld was married and to himself.  It’s a great theatrical experience; more laughs – deeper laughs – memorable laughs — than you’ll find at Bosco’s Chuckle Hut. No offense to Bosco.  I know his wife just left him.  However; for great art to survive and indeed flourish, the early audiences must up their game.  It’s not television.  This is live theatre.  There are real people just a few feet away who rehearsed for weeks on end for every funny line to get a laugh.  The funny is there.  You just have to stop laughing at what you think everyone else will laugh at.  Laugh at what you think is funny. Ya know?

Audience workshop

When I’m done writing this review I’m gonna set up an audience workshop.  I asked Mark and Steve if they’ve done stage readings for the play, as most producers do.  They get all the actors round a table with an audience in the theatre and they read the lines.  They said they did and the audience present for the reading laughed on cue every time.  When I first moved to London in the early-Nineties, I lived in Chelsea near the Kings Road.  That’s the actual Kings Road, which used to lead up to Henry VIII’s castle.  There was a screening of The Big Sleep starring Humphrey Bogart.

I thought it would be interesting to see that American classic amongst a British audience.  I wasn’t disappointed and I was pleasantly surprised.  Simply put, I never knew The Big Sleep, a dark 1940’s noir mystery, was funny.  The snappy sexual innuendo’s having to do with guns and cunning attitude were met with knowing group laughter by the very hip audience.  I never knew The Big Sleep was also funny.  In parts.  It took a literal foreign audience to point that out to me.  That’s how come I’m so confident about my point of the audience missing the point.

I never knew The Big Sleep was also funny.

Aaron Glazer’s innovative set design allows an Annie Hall type split-screen dialog going on in two different settings simultaneously and Rick Shaw’s direction feathers nicely as characters support each other in flashback sequences.

My hate is born of envy

Speaking for all Jews for The Jewish Journal, I highly recommend Married People: A Comedy, and I also recommend it when I’m sober.  Trust me; I’m a doctor.   And, I can’t wait to see it again, on Broadway or just off, or maybe even Thursday nights on my electronic vision box.  If anything, Married People: A Comedy will endure production after production and decade after decade.  Nothing has changed; and for that, I am grateful. Speaking as a total self-conflicted neurotic myself, I hated it.  But it’s the kind of hate which is born of creative envy.  One of my main personal motivators.

BTW, Mark just texted me.  There is valet parking after all.  Something tells me I’m in a Seinfeld episode and don’t know it.

Enjoy the Veal,

Steven Alan Green, 3/21/17 

Married People limited run at the Zephyr Theatre through April 2.  

Purchase your tickets here.

PRESS CONTACT: David Elzer, (818) 508-1754, davidelzer@me.com 

To Contact Steven Alan Green to review your play or comedy show, email Steven: sag@thelaughterfoundation.org