The Exes Isn't the Noël Coward Comedy It Thinks It Is

Magda S. Nyiri directs a deadly new play by Lenore Skomal.

A scene from The Exes at Theatre Row.
A scene from The Exes at Theatre Row.
(© Emily Hewitt)

Having an ego, as the character Richard Killingworth eventually discovers in the deadly new "comedy" The Exes, will always come back to haunt you. Playwright and producer Lenore Skomal should remember that, too, considering how amateurish this vanity project at Theatre Row feels from start to finish. The Exes wants to look like a lost work by Noël Coward, but it's missing the wit, brains, characters, and any reason to stay past the unnecessary intermission.

Richard (Tim Hayes) has apparently invented a genetically modified flower that won't die. It has simultaneously made him a billionaire and public enemy No. 1 in the floral community. He and his pal Dick Wright (David M. Farrington) are both divorced from the same woman, "Hurricane" Mavis (Karen Forte), who has now taken up with a Dane (Kyle Porter) and intends to move to Copenhagen. On Christmas Eve, the night that Richard's daughter Victoria (Alison Preece) is to wed the never-seen Digby (if the poor schmo ever signs the prenup), Mavis arrives, new partner in tow, begging for Richard to sign their divorce papers so she can flee to Denmark and never return.

Copious drinks are imbibed, and naturally, chaos ensues when Mavis snags a last-minute invite to the wedding of the century thanks to Richard's resentful butler, Prim (John Coleman Taylor). But none of it even resembles the fun kind of chaos.

With the exception of a single moment in the second half (which is more of a credit to lighting designer Ross Graham and movement consultant Meredith Glisson), director Magda S. Nyiri is as out to sea as her cast, staging the play with muddled blocking that guides the actors toward the audience and not each other, and no clear power structure in her arrangements of the company. (It doesn't help that Craig Napoliello's set doesn't allow for much spatial awareness.) Of the actors, all of whom are non-Equity, Taylor comes out with the most dignity, but the less said about everyone else — particularly the genuinely terrible mugging by Porter as the preposterously named "Marcel Nistlerood" — the better.

Matters are made worse by the grating incidental music. It feels as if composer Nathan Repasz wrote one stanza of a cellphone ringtone and then looped it. It's the musical equivalent of Penrose stairs that go around in circles, and is truly infuriating.

The Exes isn't the satire it wants to be, nor does it poke fun at the travails of the upper crust the way Coward did. Skomal's characters aren't intelligent or funny, they aren't witty conversationalists, and they don't speak in bon mots. They are wealthy complainers, and there's nothing more irritating than watching rich people complain about their rich-people problems for 120 minutes with intermission. It feels like being trapped at a not-so-marvelous party with people who make your skin crawl.