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What happens when the promises we make to one another change over time? Presumably, a promise lasts forever, but it’s human nature to grow and evolve.
That’s the question at the center of The Remains, Ken Urban’s emotionally rich family dramedy, making its world premiere at Studio Theatre, that examines the relationship between one of the first gay couples to marry in Massachusetts 10 years after their wedding. Over the course of one dinner, Theo (Glenn Fitzgerald) and Kevin (Maulik Pancholy), along with Theo’s parents (Naomi Jacobson and Greg Mullavey) and Kevin’s sister, Andrea (Danielle Skraastad), discuss what it means to be faithful to the ones we love, be it on an emotional or physical level. Their answers differ but the collective rumination on love and devotion cracks the shell of anyone who has loved a parent, sibling, or romantic partner.
Anxiety is high in the open-concept kitchen (designed with great taste, down to chicly contrasting wallpaper, by Wilson Chin) of the home Kevin and Theo share in Boston’s trendy South End when we meet them. They look impressively fit in their slim pants and button-up shirts, the epitome of a professional couple. Theo, the practical lawyer, throws together a salad while Kevin, the analytic academic, works on a section of his book manuscript. But appearances can be deceiving.
Within minutes, we learn that Kevin and Theo are not as happy as they appear. Instead of welcoming a baby, as Andrea predicted, they are getting divorced for reasons no one can quite agree on. Urban has perfected the awkward, vulnerable agony that comes with announcing a breakup and the cast executes it with aplomb.
Pancholy, remembered by TV audiences for manic turns on Weeds and 30 Rock, carefully calibrates his performance, drawing out Kevin’s explanations of past behavior, then suddenly snapping at his husband in front of their guests. Fitzgerald’s quiet devastation over the end of his marriage allows the audience to pity him until a secret he has kept hidden reveals he may not be an innocent party. Urban’s vivid characters contain multitudes—no one is right all the time and no one is entirely wrong, which makes them such compelling figures to study.
He has built a fair amount of humor into the script, channeling much of it through the supporting characters. One could call Andrea, a heavily accented twice-divorced single mother, a stereotypical working-class Bostonian but Skraastad imbues her with such life that a simplification like that seems unfair. She is still the older sister who can read her brother like a book and use physical comedy to physically drag the truth out of him. The same can be said of Jacobson’s portrayal of Theo’s mother, Trish, and Mullavey’s portrayal of Theo’s father, Len. They could be any older, well-cultured couple in the wealthy Boston ’burbs, but Urban makes fun of their cluelessness about the ways gay men relate to each other with love. They are endearing, not caricaturish.
(To be fair, the play’s hyper-specific setting and jokes about how people in Massachusetts relate to one another seems tailor-made for individuals, like this reviewer, who hail from, or have spent a significant amount of time in, the Bay State. When Theo calls out his parents for being “racist in that polite Boston way,” pockets of the audience chuckled knowingly.)
The five characters establish their differences very early on and yet over the decade they have been related, have come to rely on one another. As Kevin and Andrea realize that they will no longer have a connection to Trish and Len, people who have behaved more parentally toward them than their own parents, the pain registers on their faces. They know, and the audience does too, that what’s devastating about a breakup is not just losing a loved one but also losing the people you have come to love through that person.
In that beautiful, sad, and sweet moment, it almost seems like abandoning the breakup would be worth it, that the love these people share is powerful enough to make them look past the lies and the wounded egos that brought them to this point.
“Can we just pretend for a little longer?” Theo asks his husband at one point in the evening. He already knows they cannot but that feeling of despair, disguised momentarily as hope, hangs in the air, left behind for the audience to consider on their walk home.
To June 24 at 1501 14th St. NW. $20–$106. (202) 332-3300. studiotheatre.org.