Gays should be careful what they wish for when fighting for marriage equality: They're actually opening themselves up to the hassle of divorce. This is one of many false epiphanies in Ruthe Ponturo and John Thomas Fischer's new musical, Til Divorce Do Us Part. Other highlights include "Better Mad Than Sad" and "Your pharmacist's there for you." In reality, legal and organized divorce is a far better way to dissolve a long-term same-sex relationship than the previous method, in which the wealthier and more powerful partner could walk away with everything. (No marriage contract = no legally binding relationship. You're not on the deed to the house? Sorry!) Of course, this narcissistic pity party dressed up as musical comedy never considers much of anything beyond a laundry list of champagne problems for rich divorcées.
Ponturo came up with the concept and wrote the lyrics for Til Divorce Do Us Part when she was going through her own divorce with Bronx Bombers producer Tony Ponturo. Divorce had a successful run at the Triad Theatre in 2012. Now it's back and bigger than ever at the DR2 Theatre.
Mitchell Greenberg's set is awash in pink: The proscenium is decorated with giant candy hearts that say things like "TTFN" and "Bite Me." Three cupids point their arrows menacingly at the stage. Adorned in a prim vest and tie that matches the set, composer Fischer sits behind a piano upstage right and bangs out the score. It's like a cross between a gay piano bar and a nightmarish Valentine.
In addition to accompanying the show, Fischer plays Dottie, an advice columnist. Dottie reads letters from unhappy women all over the globe and offers musical responses, usually sung by our protagonist, Kate (Erin Maguire), a recent divorcée. With shocking red hair and two country solos, she's reminiscent of an urban Reba McEntire. She's backed up by Audrey (Gretchen Wylder) and Suzy (Dana Wilson), Kate's sympathetic girlfriends who also happen to be going through their own messy divorces.
It's not so much a book musical, but a revue of melodic revenge fantasies. "The Best Scenario" envisions all the horrible ways Audrey's ex-husband could die. Kate imagines that she could have salvaged her marriage in "If Only You Were Gay." Fischer has packed a remarkable 26 songs into this 85-minute show. The pastiche ranges from vaudeville to gospel to rap. In a stunning act of crude orientalism, the three women don stereotypical Egyptian costumes and perplexing accents for "Denial," a response to an Egyptian woman ("Confounded in Cairo") that has Kate "swimming in de Nile."
Much of the humor in Til Divorce Do Us Part is of the same caliber: In the song "Wedding Invitation" about a wedding between two men, Suzy sings, "Come see which one will wear the gown." One of the funnier moments in the show has Kate cutting her ex-husband's head out of photos in the family scrapbook, like she's Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest. Taking his first letter from a woman whose husband left her for a woman 20 years her junior ("Cornswaggled in Kentucky"), Dottie presciently reads, "Isn't this what you'd call a cliché?" Yes, it is.
There's a song about the humiliation of hosting a post-divorce Christmas brunch ("Holidays Suck") and one about spending precious moments with your $600-an-hour attorney (the repetitive "Divorce Dirge," set to Chopin's Funeral March): The whole event is remarkably tone deaf and only speaks to the travails of a tiny fraction of divorced women. If budgeting your money between cab fare and hair care while agonizing about who will get custody of the beach house is your biggest problem, you're doing far better than the vast majority of American divorcées. Also, for a musical ostensibly about female empowerment, the three women spend an awful lot of time calling other women "sluts" and "whores." At one point, Suzy and Audrey parade around the stage wearing huge glittery scarlet A's while Kate kicks at them with her six-inch high heels.
If you're going through a bad divorce or breakup, you might find some solace in seeing Til Divorce Do Us Part. But "Remember what Dottie always says," Fischer chimes in before a song that has the three actresses flipping off the audience while performing a fugue: "Maintain your dignity." Indeed.