As The Exes opens, it is Christmas Eve day and the Killingworth household is preparing for the wedding of Richard’s over-indulged daughter, Victoria. Richard’s best friend, Dick Wright, is helping to keep everything on track despite the barrage of business calls. Richard made a fortune from the patent he holds on a genetically-engineered “forever” flower that has caused quite a stir among fearful florists. There’s a protest planned and it is even suspected that these small-business owners were behind a fire that destroyed Richard’s original townhouse.
The birth of Richard and Dick’s friendship was an unusual one. Richard’s soon to be ex-wife, Mavis, was first married to Dick. One year ago, she ran off to Denmark to be with her now-fiancé, Marcel. The two men bonded when Dick saw a reflection of his own pain in Richard’s distress at her leaving. Now the two are so close that they jokingly call each other #1 and #2. Even Dick and Marvis’s son, Garrett, comfortably hangs out in the Killingworth home. Just as everyone is about to depart for the ceremony, Mavis makes her customary chaotic entrance. She’s returned from overseas to get her divorced papers signed. She is also intent on witnessing the marriage of the young woman she helped raise.
If it wasn’t for the key role played by cellphones and iPads, The Exes could have been written ages ago. Rather than exploring what divorce and remarriage is like for woman like Mavis, playwright Lenore Skomal leans into the throwback elements of her script. She has followed her own advice and self-produced this run, assembling a production team that seemingly drew inspiration from a creaky drawing room comedy. Craig Napoliello’s set is functional, but the elements are dated. Magda S. Nyiri’s direction often has the actors awkwardly posed in a straight line. And it’s hard to say what time period is represented by the jazzy musical phrases looped together by Nathan Repasz. These are puzzling choices for a talented writer devoted to artistic empowerment.
The most disappointing fallout from these creative decisions is that 2019 Mavis comes across like a character from a 1940 movie. Having been introduced to the audience by her exes as a serial cheater, Mavis doesn’t do much to redeem herself. While she has brief tender moments with her son, Garrett, and confident, Prim, she mostly thrashes around. It’s unfortunate that the character isn’t developed more sympathetically since that possibility is running right under the surface. Despite only one of the Richards using the nickname Dick, they both obviously are. #1 makes cutting remarks about everyone around him. #2 always has business on his mind and a cellphone glued to his ear. Neither could have made a suitable partner for the sociable Mavis, who was left searching for connection. Having apparently learned little about what constitutes a healthy relationship, she chose to move on with a man who was dismissed from his job for behaving inappropriately with younger women. Now she is leaving Garrett behind AGAIN, this time to face his 6th year of college with only three stunningly selfish people to guide him.
While the most enduring relationship portrayed is between Richard and Dick, it is Garrett who stirs compassion from the audience. Alone among the hyped up cast, Galen Molk’s performance is warm and natural. His vivid, witty description of events which take place off stage — enhanced by designer Ross Graham lighting — is a bright spot. John Coleman Taylor also remains dignified if a bit stereotypical as English “house manager”, Prim. Oddly for a production powered by women, Karen Forte’s Mavis and Alison Preece’s Victoria border on the unpleasant with shallow interpretations coated in neediness. The capable men are each given one note to play. David M. Farrington has terrific timing, but Dick’s every line is delivered with equal snap. Richard is driven, so Tim Hayes is continually put in drive mode. And Kyle Porter’s badly dressed and overly-mannered Marcel is so quirky the character becomes an unfathomable punchline.
The Exes has a fun premise and some great minds at work. But like the marriages it portrays, it doesn’t fulfill its promises. Runtime is about 2-hours with an intermission. Tickets are available for $59.25 through Telecharge at https://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/The-Exes/Overview. It’s playing off-Broadway at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street near 9th Avenue) through October 5th.