review: you better sit down

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You Better Sit Down: Tales From My Parents’ Divorce

by Anne Kauffman, Matthew Maher, Caitlin Miller, Jennifer R. Morris, Janice Paran, Robbie Collier Sublett
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Featuring Matthew Maher, Caitlin Miller, Jennifer R. Morris, and Robbie Collier Sublett
The Civilians at The Flea Theater, 41 White Street
April 12, 2012 — May 6, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
April 11, 2012

(L-R) Robbie Collier Sublett, Jennifer R. Morris, Matthew Maher, Caitlin Miller . Image by Joan Marcus.

Four delightful performers have mined their own parents’ relationships (removing their own childhood pain from the storytelling) for a theatrical evening delivering pieces of the stories of four marriages and their dissolutions.  Performers Sublett, Morris, Maher, and Miller and several collaborators have crafted in You Better Sit Down: Tales From My Parents’ Divorce a tribute to mid 20th-century marriages from several classes and backgrounds. And the finely tuned result is a delight.

Assembled from the raw materials of conversations the four performers held with one or both of their parents, much as Anna Deavere Smith interviews and then becomes her subjects in dramatically edited form, our actors become the characters of their own parents. Our cast becomes their mothers — Mary Anne (Caitlin Miller), Janet (Robbie Collier Sublett), Beverly (Jennifer R. Morris), and Frinde (Matthew Maher).  Maher also takes on his father John, in his parents’ marital tale of socialist peers making sense of their lives. Never confusing, always engaging, worlds of lives sparely told.

We learn the answers to general categories of questions. Was there an object you fought over? (intriguing choice to bring us into the world of these stories, but there we begin). Then we address how they met, how they decided to get married, how they broke up. The order of the questions is not surprising, but the variation in tone and forgiveness and rich storytelling and the choices of these actors surprise and delight and enchant. And the manner in which the real voices of some of the parents telling pieces of the stories are incorporated into the show is a touch of brilliance.

Spare set (Mimi Lien) and lights (Ben Stanton) and sound (Leah Gelpe) support and focus our attention on these delightful performers and their parents’ stories.  Particular and universal, in one gulp.

© Martha Wade Steketee (April 13, 2012)

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