For the most part, writer-director Lynn Mamet’s drama about a Yuppie divorce is a stilted and turgid proceeding, save for the riveting emotional climax, powerfully performed by Wylie Small.
The entire play is set in the conference room of a law firm where Emma (Small), a highly successful gynecologist, and Elliot (Donald Agnelli), a less-successful attorney, are wrangling over their bitter divorce settlement. Serving more as frustrated bystanders than legal counselors are their attorneys — David (Les Williams) and Phillip (Patrick Wood).For those keeping score, husband David has stripped their house in Maine clean of every stick of furniture, rejected their autistic son and slept with most of their domestic help, not to mention his dental hygienist. Emma’s sins seem less tangible, but her combative hauteur, steel heart and rapier tongue make it abundantly clear why David sought solace in the arms of the nanny.
Mamet tries to lighten the intensity with some witty dialogue, but most of it is forced cleverness that has the ring of the writer’s pen more than of truth. Worse still are the endless musings by clients and lawyers about the corruption of the law and the lack of real justice in the proceedings. These are very angry rich people getting a divorce — did anyone expect anything different?
Thankfully, there is a real turnaround near the end of the play when Emma and Elliot drop their arrogant posings and cut to the emotional heart of their dispute. In this scene, Mamet comes into her own as a writer, delivering a poignant, often riveting resolution to the piece. Small also comes passionately alive in this scene, finding a real emotional depth to the sufferings of her character.
As director, Mamet does not serve her script well, failing to find the right tone and tempo for most of the piece. She also uses awkward blocking and tight staging of the static scenes, adding to the slowness of the pace. The cast is also weak, with the exception of Small’s finale and a gripping turn by Casey Payden as the couple’s wronged nanny.