“Time’s Up” at Theater Upstairs
Sylvie Drake, Los Angeles Times 9/13/1977
Divorce, one of the most soul-searching and symptomatic dilemmas of our century, remains a subject that theater mostly neglects. We have had Oliver Hailey’s “Father’s Day” and essentially that’s been it.
But now there’s playwright Lance Lee and “Time’s Up” — a dual monologue that accomplishes three things: It takes potshots at divorce; plays amiable hell with its attendant life-support system, the “shrink” and achieves both through an inventive presentation that divides the stage into separate therapists’ offices, with the “patients” addressing the audience directly for relief from their marital indigestion.
It’s a novel idea, not without its rewards nor, unfortunately, its limitations. Macie Thompson (Barbara Trembley) and Bob White (Gary Wood) are both married, not to each other, and trying to sort out complicated circumstances and feelings that have brought them to the edge of divorce and, just as surely, to their respective shrinks.
“Time’s Up” re-creates the mild cacophony of jangled egos, shattered nerves, cries of self-justification and whimpers of self-admonishment by having its two principals talk separately and/or together in sometimes overlapping phrases — sometimes in overlapping thoughts — with occasional solo outings to promote clarity and continuity.
Because of the isolation of the characters, the form never involves us fully and its effects tend to be mostly gloss. Macie is a slightly ludicrous woman in her middle 30s whose marriage to Marv had all the excitement of Romper Room. Marv wasn’t much of a lover and Macie has learned to take refuge in material possessions and Mai Tais in the afternoon. Other husbands complain of their wives growing old. Marv complains that Macie won’t grow up. Angry, confused, amused, bemused and sexually frustrated, Macie is a south Beverly Hills version of The Ladies Who Lunch. And Trembley lends her a colorful aura of dumb blonde humor that almost makes up for a certain discomfort with her body and a high-pitched whine that can be grating. More relaxation here would help immeasurably.
As for poor Bob White, the complexity of his emotions might drive even a therapist to drink. “I’ve never had such a good marriage and been so unhappy with it,” he claims for starters. Not a simple fellow, Bob, just … unhappy. The victim of a wife so perfect that she made him feel small (“I’d complain, she’d comply”), a mother who always knew how to get him to do what she wanted and a mistress who placed the deadly constraint of no constraint at all. “That’s what’s doing me in all these years,” he agonizes, “being loved.” And it’s taken all this time and pain to discover that being propped up by others isn’t the same as standing on your own.
Wood gives an intense, sensitively coiled performance that savors every uncertainty and lunges at every ghost. There’s humor in it, too, but more circumstantial than indigenous.
All in all, “Time’s Up” is a witty exercise that examines without exacerbating our 20th–century paranoia. Lee’s use of the therapist’s byword, “time’s up,” to abruptly cut off each scene is a masterfully unstated indictment of the inhumanity of our courts of last resort.
Director Joel Rosenzweig’s orchestration of the unrelated characters underlines this satirical bite. It has polish, pathos and a cool hand on the pain behind the slick facades. This is not an era given to much profundity and both Lee as author and Rosenzweig as director take care not to forget it.
Set designer Garvin Eddy’s sleek chromes and polished woods add the crowning touch of impersonality to an environment that is decidedly unhealthy for human flesh and blood.