Unhappy marriage equality
A Contemporary American's Guide to a Successful Marriage © 1959
Sacramento, CA 95815
Robert Bastron's quirky comedy about the state of American marriage—and our expectations of it—couldn't be more timely, with a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States due this month (perhaps already by the time you read this) on the issue of who, exactly, has the right to be married. In Big Idea Theatre's well-done production of A Contemporary American's Guide to a Successful Marriage © 1959, we see just how flawed our cultural construction of marriage can be and how this dysfunction is tied to poor communication, rigid gender roles and unrealistic expectations.
All that, and it's funny, too.
Set up as a mid-20th-century instructional film—which a few of us are certainly old enough to have seen in school—Guide follows the marriages of two couples from their “meet-cute” courtships: Danny (Joshua Glenn Robertson) and Ruth, (Stephanie Hodson) and Mason (Ian Cullity) and Abby (Amanda Johnston). Their lives and experiences are commented upon—and interfered with—by an omniscient narrator (Jeff Kohlhepp), who acts as the enforcer of gender essentialism and puritanical morality.
Guide could easily devolve into pantomime, but this top-notch cast, directed by Justin Mu–oz, adds emotional oomph to what might, in lesser hands, be pure melodrama. It helps that there's an outstanding ensemble of supporting players: Jamie Kale, Gregory Smith, Ruby Sketchley, Kirk Blackinton (a role shared with Brian Harrower), and Shaleen Schmutzer-Smith (as Abby's hypocritical and bigoted mother, who outwardly seems so sweet that butter wouldn't melt in her mouth).
As we watch the marriages of the two young couples as they struggle to follow a playbook imposed on their lives from someone's imagined idea of “marital perfection,” it becomes clear what's really ailing American marriage: an artificial model of perfection, compounded by our own unrealistic expectations.
The bottom line? We're all happier when being ourselves than when playing a role—except, of course, for actors.