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Theater Review: 'Marie and Bruce'

The revival of ‘Marie and Bruce,’ starring Marisa Tomei, never fully engages the audience — other than making them long for the single life.

Spending time with people who don’t like each other can be wearing. Wallace Shawn’s “Marie and Bruce” upgrades Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” for the “me” generation; his 1979 play, revived here with an excellent cast, is the sort of enterprise that leaves one grateful for the single life.

Derek McLane’s wonderful set, which converts effortlessly from a book-lined bedroom to a book-lined dining room to a cafe, is the most appealing thing about this grim undertaking. Marisa Tomei and Frank Whaley — as the self-absorbed, chain-smoking title couple — alternately abuse and comfort each other. Whaley as Bruce is apparently a writer, but we never get a shred of evidence that either of them, or anyone else onstage, does useful work. They eat and drink and smoke and change their clothes, and fantasize about sex with others or alone.

A dinner party for nine thirtysomethings is also quarrelsome, and Marie, wisely, falls asleep. The talkiness of Shawn’s play is relieved by Scott Elliot’s imaginative staging; the round table sits on a revolving platform, allowing us to eavesdrop on various conversations, and two pivotal monologues are delivered directly to the audience. Light and sound cues indicate gaps in the conversation — but the meal, like many you’ve been to, goes on too long, with fountains of small talk and no real engagement.

It’s difficult to get involved in a work in which just about everyone is pretty obnoxious, and the most engaging speech involves the bowel habits of a random cafe patron. I found myself looking at my watch frequently for the last half of this intermission-less show.

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