Life in a Marital Institution
nytheatre.com review by Shelley Molad
July 9, 2008
Life in a Marital Institution is a one-man saga written and performed by James Braly, whose 20-year marriage is far from ordinary—but then again what marriage isn't?
Having premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2007, followed by a run at 59E59 here in New York, Life in a Marital Institution's off-Broadway debut at the Soho Playhouse appears to be a success thus far; Wednesday evening's performance opened to an almost-full house. With 199 seats, the theatre is just the right size for an intimate, slightly larger-than-life production; however, it's not the performance aspect that draws in the crowd, but Braly's undeniable ability to capture the audience as a storyteller.
It takes a little time before its clear where Braly's story is going, vacillating between the bedside of his sister, who is slowly dying of cancer, and his relationship with Susan, the woman of his life—and his strife. Braly uses his own marriage to mirror his sister's desire to marry, beginning from his days as an amateur poet at Columbia, when he and Susan first met, to a wander lusting (literally) Euro adventure, to the unprecedented birthing of their children, followed by vigorous debates spawned by Susan's insistence to freeze her placenta (who knew you could eat it?!).
From the onset, Braly delivers his monologue straight at us, rapidly, with the speedy tempo of a radio announcer. In fact, one may stop and wonder what makes this piece "theater." If this was a book or radio segment, Braly could rely solely on his words and voice; set on a stage, there is a whole other dimension that seems to be lacking—that of the body as an added instrument to bring the story and characters to life. Many solo shows have accomplished this—I am my own wife and Golda's Balcony come to mind.
There are a couple of times when Braly does take the extra step to make his performance more dynamic; for instance, when he describes Franz—the candied object of his affection and looming obstacle to his solid marriage—he characterizes her body and voice to reenact a moment in which the French beauty bore a resemblance to a profiterole (his favorite dessert)! More of this might have added more color to this wonderfully written and told story.
All in all, Life in a Marital Institution, both shocking and tender, is definitely a story worth hearing; but I'd love to see Braly take his show further, by serving a little theatrical spice with that placenta.