In the Flea Theater and The Civilians' YOU BETTER SIT DOWN: TALES FROM MY PARENTS' DIVORCE, four actors sit side by side in varying styles of chairs and play their parents, answering questions from actual interviews in one large confessional theater space. We go on a relationship journey of how each couple met and fell in love, got married, began having problems, broke up, and finally cope with life after divorce. Although the material is deep and thought-provoking, it also offers a simplicity that is relatable to anyone who has or is going through a divorce. We learn that "you pay a consequence when you want to get out."
Actors, Caitlin Miller (Mary Anne), Robbie Collier Sublett (Janet), Jennifer R. Morris (Beverly), and Matthew Maher (John, Frinde) play the parents and speak candidly about their relationship ups and downs, from the initial attraction to marriage to break up and finally to post-divorce. Throughout the conversations, we learn that one partner was a criminal, two were philanderers, and the last only married and tried to make it work for the sake of the Catholic church.
Jennifer R. Morris is the most compelling, playing "Beverly," who had a strong initial sexual attraction to her ex. She readily admits to fighting over a Tiffany lamp and being a "cheap Jew-ESS" (when accused of being a "cheap Jew"). She says, "It's all about me," hoping her kids can take care of themselves, and has an unyielding intensity about her that is both hilarious and intoxicating.
Caitlin Miller, who plays "Mary Anne," admits that she outgrew the marriage and wanted it to end, but was constantly worried about the Catholic church. She says that "men are pretty stupid" and that her ex-husband wasn't connecting to her on an emotional level.
Ironically, male actor, Robbie Collier Sublett, plays the composed mother, Janet, who calmly admits to "her" ex's criminal exposure wherein he falsified income taxes which led to the ultimate necessity of the marriage's demise in order to protect herself and her wallet.
Perhaps the most adventurous undertaking was the role of both mother AND father, played by Matthew Maher. Although not very effective role-playing, Maher attempted to play both parents and give two different perspectives. His tonal quality did not prove convincing, however, and often times we were left wondering which parent he was playing.
Staging under the direction of Anne Kauffman is unnecessarily busy where actors carry out mundane tasks such as answer phones, pour coffee, drink tea, and perform other chores that are only distractions and have no real significance to the story, merely causing diversion and interruption to the overall pacing. Lighting by Ben Stanton and design by Mimi Lien are both effective and pleasant, and offer a calmness to the set.
YOU BETTER SIT DOWN: TALES FROM MY PARENTS' DIVORCE is an honest recount of divorce from the parents' perspective without the bitter fighting and emotional turmoil that one endures while in the midst of it. Questions are raised with often times no real answers. For example, Mary Anne wonders, "Is love enough to base a marriage on? Does a marriage even need love?" While John maintained a cool attitude saying "When the love is gone, it's time to part," and admits it was "kind of fun" after the divorce, Janet needed to buy a punching bag for her children. All seem to admit, however, that they don't remember their kids' initial reactions to the divorce because they were too focused on themselves. Nonetheless, with enough time that has passed, they can all talk insightfully to their children, admit fault, accept loss, and move on with their own lives. Put simply by Mary Anne, "I can breathe."