BWW Reviews: The Catastrophic Theatre’s MARIE AND BRUCE is Gut Wrenching Dark Comedy

In 1999 Jason Nodler directed Tamarie Cooper andCharLes Scott as the titular characters in Infernal Bridegroom's production of Wallace Shawn's MARIE AND BRUCE. Celebrating 20 years of Jason Nodler and Tamarie Cooper making theatre together and the fifth anniversary of The Catastrophic Theatre, the company is closing their 2013 season with a revival of their acclaimed production of MARIE AND BRUCE. Jason Nodler,Tamarie Cooper, and CharLes Scott are all returning to the production in their previous roles, and each ensures that Houston audiences are gifted with an incredible night of theatre.

Wallace Shawn's 1978 play MARIE AND BRUCE has been met with its fair share of controversy and disapproval over the years. However, in my estimation, it may be one of the cleverest portraits of marital dysfunction and dissatisfaction ever written. Taking us through seemingly trivial episodes in one day of Marie and Bruce's tumultuous relationship, Wallace Shawn confronts the audience with his sharp tongued and unhappy couple as they wake-up and prepare for their day, attend a cocktail party at a friend's house, and as they eat dinner at an Italian restaurant. Despite the mundane triviality of these occurrences, what makes the play so powerful and impacting is that we, as the audience, never know what Marie actually says to Bruce. Many of her lines seem to fly past him, as if she is verbalizing her internal monologue only for us.

Direction by Jason Nodler engages the audience and brings affecting gravity to the production. Boldly, he places the titular characters on stage and in full view of the audience as we take our seats. Tamarie Cooper's Marie is sitting upright, looking troubled and annoyed. CharLes Scott's Bruce tosses and turns, sleeping. This makes the opening obscenities uttered by Marie both shocking and funny. Yet, as the play progresses, the audience's heart breaks for Marie. With her rough language, anger, and hatred, we see a broken woman that we cannot help but sympathize with. Likewise, he has coached CharLes Scott's Bruce to be indifferent and uninterested in his wife's misery, making his character entirely unlikable from opening to close. Through the lens of Wallace Shawn, Jason Nodler, and CharLes Scott, we are exposed to a man that repulses us just as much as he disgusts Marie.

This was my first production of MARIE AND BRUCE to see, and I was completely fascinated by Tamarie Cooper's mesmerizing performance as Marie. I was so blown away by the animosity she expressed that I simply cannot imagine that when she was 14 years younger that it played as well as it does now. Wallace Shawn carefully never exposes how long Marie and Bruce have been married, but the way Tamarie Cooper plays the role, I imagined they married in their late 20s and were possibly nearing their 10 or even 15 year anniversary. Thus, her bitterness and delivery of lines like "I've never loved you" were amazingly affective, biting, and simultaneously gut wrenching.Tamarie Cooper's Marie is a tortured soul that we root for. She bares her pain and sorrow for us to carry with her in hopes that she will actually leave Bruce.

Playing Bruce, CharLes Scott crafts one of the most despicable characters I have ever seen grace a stage. His disinterest and disregard for his wife is stupefying. CharLes Scott pristinely utilizes a general lack of concern for the entirety of the production which truly makes the audience question just how many of Marie's lines are actually spoken to him and how many are her inner-most thoughts. On the other hand, when he does address Marie, he flabbergasts the audience with his flippant and abusively crass treatment of her, especially towards the end of the cocktail party. I have nothing but praise for CharLes Scott's ability to create a character that is easily the most unredeemable and uncaring that I have ever seen brought to life on stage.

Greg Dean as Henry/Ed/Tim, JeAnne Harris as Bettina/Lisa/Roxanne, Karina Pal Montaño-Bowers as Enid/Jean, Kyle Sturdivant as Antoine/Bert, and Abraham Zeus Zapata as Herb/Fred/Waiter all do great jobs at being obnoxiously self-involved party guests and other denizens in the world that Wallace Shawn positions Marie and Bruce in. Fast-forward to 2013 and the social commentary Wallace Shawn is making with these frustrating characters is exacerbated by our own incessant addictions to technology and social media. Out of this abominable group of self-aggrandizing humans,Kyle Sturdivant's Bert is the most memorable and an absolute riot as he loudly discusses his irritated bowels in the Italian restaurant.

Scenic Design by Laura Fine Hawkes is gorgeous. The windows that she has carefully positioned around the stage are beautiful and alluring. Likewise, she has created three distinct areas for the cast to play in, but they all work together well, allowing for the actors to fluidly move about the stage without it looking awkward or inappropriate.

Sound Design by Chris Bakos is stunning. He brilliantly incorporates atmospheric noises such as street traffic and ambient dining noises throughout almost the entirety of the production. With this constant and natural din pervading the air, he subtly adds a much-appreciated layer of realism into the production. Yet, he smartly removes all background noise from time to time, giving more weight and power to the lines that Tamarie Cooper delivers without any noise in the background.

The Catastrophic Theatre's production of MARIE AND BRUCE is the perfect compliment to all the syrupy holiday fair being produced elsewhere. With fantastic drama and chuckle and guffaw inducing dark humor, MARIE AND BRUCE is a thought-provoking exploration of just how inhumane and utterly devastating human relationships can truly be. It's not a feel good show, but you'll leave the theatre positively excited about the quality production you witnessed. And, if you're like me, you'll wake up the next morning radiant and overjoyed because of how good the show was.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

MARIE AND BRUCE, produced by The Catastrophic Theatre, plays The Catastrophic Theatre, 1119 East Freeway, Houston, 77002, now through December 14, 2013. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit or call (713) 522-2723.