Life in a Marital Institution
James Braly's affable monologue considers the complexities involved in keeping a marriage intact.
Not that what he talks about isn't often serious. Indeed, he divulges quite personal details about his behavior during a courtship of and 20-plus-years marriage to a woman named Susan. He intertwines that testimony with recalling the day his sister Kathy, dying of cancer and on a Dilaudid drip, wed her avaricious boyfriend while the dismayed Braly family looked on at a hospital bedside. Switching between the tale's two strands, he fills in the details of that drama-packed event, but he really uses it as a back-up illustration of his attitude towards the boundless astonishments of love and marriage. His more immediate study is the alliance with Susan, a clearly intelligent and appealing woman who seems constantly to try his patience and whose patience he seems habitually to try.
A large part of Braly's confessional hour is devoted to recounting a vacation Susan and he spent with a woman they met on a trip to Positano. She was called France, and she was someone after whom James lusted openly, so openly that he painstakingly contrived not to let her see his thin chest when they went swimming because he worried it might disappoint her. He reports he almost succumbed to the temptation of an affair with "what may be the most beautiful woman I've ever seen." His ultimate decision not to go farther than a few kisses and some finger-sucking explains the solo-show's long-winded title. It gets to the heart of his fascination with the complexities involved in keeping a marriage intact. It's a monumental question for which he never finds an answer and seems the more content for all that.
Among the chapters included in the story of his life with Susan is the home delivery of their second son, Owen, which may be the biggest patience-tryer of their continuing union. This leads to his mentioning that Owen's placenta remains frozen in the Braly refrigerator, and that leads to extended coverage of a dinner James and Susan have with Upstate New York neighbors where the conversation includes the pleasures of placenta-eating. "It was more tender than filet mignon, but not at all mushy like liver," he recalls one diner remarking. My guess is that for Braly's auditors, this eye-popping -- perhaps even mouth-watering -- sequence will be the one remembered when the rest of Braly's expounding fades from memory.
Okay, it's all somewhat interesting, but let's be honest about the stand-up routine Braly is doing. And, yes, this is a stand-up routine, despite director Hal Brooks' keeping the talkative guy on the move and lighting designer Colin D. Young's establishing various areas for Braly to inhabit as a substitute for genuine action. Sure, the routine is indisputably identifiable and -- when he discusses his devotion to wife and sister -- even moving.
Still, while listening to it, I started thinking Braly's story wasn't any more recognizable or moving than a telephone conversation I'd had earlier in the week with a friend also dealing with a dire family situation and describing it just as urgently and at times with the kind of humor people need to muster in times like these. Why was I listening to Braly from a stage when what he had to say wasn't appreciably more stage-necessary than my friend's story -- or, for that matter, any heart-felt story told at a 12-step meeting?