Actors have grown into roles in ‘Marie and Bruce’

Wallace Shawn's "Marie and Bruce" are one of those couples – you know, like Edward Albee's George and Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

So awash in mutual contempt and animosity that you wonder why they stay together.

Or, maybe you understand perfectly.

Tamarie Cooper and Charlie Scott know Marie and Bruce well. They played the vituperative pair in Infernal Bridegroom Productions' 1999 staging of Shawn's 1978 off-Broadway play, and now they return to the roles in Catastrophic Theatre's new production, again directed by Jason Nodler. It opens Friday.

In the opening scene, Marie unleashes a flood of furious invective explaining why she hates Bruce and plans to leave him, all the while hovering over the sleeping man, an insensate lump beneath rumpled covers, occasionally emitting complacent gurgles. He doesn't get why he irritates her so. Or, maybe, slyly, he does. Consult your manual of marital warfare and all its tactics.

"It's so interesting for us to tackle the same play 14 years on," says Cooper, a Houston favorite for her series of zany summer musicals. "It was Jason who suggested that we revisit the play. We've all been through so much more of life's highs and lows – and, of course, lived a lot more in the relationship category."

"Both Tamarie and I have gotten married since the last time we did this play," Scott says. "In fact, we each officiated at the other's wedding. We've lived another 14 years, have accumulated experiences and learned more about the subtleties of interpersonal relationships and what it means to love someone."

Though some may see this sort of battling-spouses play as an attack on marriage, Cooper and Scott view it differently.

"It's just about how marriage – how any long-term relationship – is difficult. Anyone who has lived in any relationship for any period of time knows there are times when each partner is completely annoyed with the other. Everyone can relate, on some level, to that feeling of frustration – not being heard, not getting through. It's almost as if Bruce has shut down and Marie is just trying to get a reaction. The thing is, in the play, you hear this in an unfiltered voice. In our 'real' lives, we usually apply that filter, to some extent, before saying something."

"I don't think Wallace Shawn is necessarily saying this is the most doomed of marriages," Cooper adds. "I feel it's left to each audience member, at the end, to figure whether these two will end their marriage or will continue together."

"Like a lot of couples," Scott says, "they've reached a point where they are just habituating. Bruce takes a lot of things for granted. He is very much a comfort creature. He's comfortable in the routine of their relationship because he doesn't have to think much or feel much. With the degree of insulation he has, he can have encounters without any feeling of risk or threat. It allows him to fend everything off, so her verbal attacks just slide right off him. Lying in bed in a heap while she unleashes her tirade, he kind of reminds me of a hibernating bear."

Scott, last seen as Estragon in Catastrophic's memorable "Waiting for Godot," says the sense of routine and familiarity in "Marie and Bruce" is enhanced by his and Cooper's own history of working together.

"The intimacy, the closeness in the way we work together, and the way we work with Jason, helps create a real trust and openness in making the dynamics of this relationship come to life on stage."

Cooper and Scott say it's not only their additional life mileage and stage experience, but also Nodler's maturation as director, that will make this a richer take on Shawn's play than they delivered in 1999.

"We definitely approach work differently now," Cooper says. "Jason, as director, has changed in a lot of ways. I think, then, we approached a lot of things from the outside, more a matter of affectation. For instance, trying to hit a certain physical mark again – something that worked at one performance, and trying to re-create the effect exactly the same way the next time. Now, Jason's approach, our approach, is much more internal, more deeply felt because everything is coming from within."

Scott agrees that Nodler's maturation as a director helps his actors bring new insights to works they performed previously.

"In the years Jason was working away from Houston," Scott says, "he experimented with a lot of different ways of making a play work. I think a lot of those lessons learned have come to fruition in his work since starting Catastrophic in 2008. He really has evolved into a director determined to generate honest performances from actors, whatever the outer trappings of a play may be. That's one of the reasons he's wanted to revisit some of these plays. We all felt strongly about doing this again – not as a matter of doing what we did with it then, but what we can do with it now."


'Marie and Bruce'

When: Opens Friday; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Dec. 14; No show on Thanksgiving

Where: Catastrophic Theater, 1117 U.S. 59 S.

Tickets: Pay what you can; 713-522-2723