Before Ken Urban’s play The Remains even begins, the audience takes in the pristine, sumptuous kitchen belonging to married couple Theo and Kevin. This modernist dream, created by set designer Wilson Chin, is all sleek wood tables and chairs and icy and clean tile backsplashes and top of the line appliances. It’s certainly an enviable living space, but while it may give off an air of perfection, there’s something that keeps it from feeling “homey.” Maybe it’s the fact that the only picture of the couple is a small one in a frame turned face down. This lack of warmth within an ideal setting is where The Remains lives.
When the show starts, Theo (Glenn Fitzgerald) and Kevin (Maulik Pancholy) are preparing for a dinner with Theo’s parents and Kevin’s sister. There’s a bit of nervous tension as Theo spills lettuce all over the hardwood floors, but there’s also some sweet softness as Theo implores Kevin to read aloud the preface to an academic book he’s working on. There’s a familiarity and ease between these two men, who’ve been together for 17 years and married for a decade (they were one of the first same sex couples to get married in Massachusetts). There’s also a distinct unsteadiness. This isn’t a casual dinner they’re preparing; they have an announcement for their loved ones.
The tension gets briefly cut by the arrival of Theo’s mom Trish (Naomi Jacobson) and Len (Greg Mullavey), who provide a nice comic energy and easy patter to break the thick mood. There’s distracted discussions of plays they’ve seen and the revelatory fact that Trish has just discovered the joys of sleeping barefoot. The tension reemerges as Kevin is taking a bit longer than necessary to pick up beer and lettuce from the corner market. That tension again gets a reprieve with the arrival of Kevin’s sister Andrea (Danielle Skraastad), a twice divorced mother of two with a thick working-class Boston accent that academic, highbrow Kevin has managed to shed. The building and breaking of tension with Theo and Kevin being the heavies and the parents and Andrea as comic relief is fun, but gets old fast. Thankfully, the two men get to the meat of the play quickly–they’re getting a divorce.
Len is stoic, Trish is a shell-shocked mess, and Andrea (used to being the disappointing sibling against Kevin) is sad but with a twinge of satisfaction at Kevin being taken down a peg from perfection.
Their divorce initially gets explained as an amiable split based on long-distance job woes, but as first Theo unravels and runs upstairs (and offstage) and then Kevin does the same later on, revelations about their relationship are revealed in a natural and heartbreaking way (directed with a delicate and precise hand by Artistic Director David Muse).
Fitzgerald and Pancholy are captivating as Theo and Kevin. They have a natural chemistry of a long-term couple and you can see their love and their resentments on the sleeves of their very smart dress shirts. These two actors are so raw and warm at the same time that it’s easy as an audience member to root for them and become invested in the state of their relationship.
Andrea at first feels a bit one-note brash, but Skraastad really settles into her in a great scene between her and Kevin when they discuss their messy childhoods. It’s in this rooted, emotional moment that their relationship as siblings seems most believable.
Trish is played mostly for comic relief and Jacobson is hilarious, but I really wished for more grounded moments from the character of Trish. Even when she discusses her own indiscretions and is caught in her own lies, it’s played mostly with a goofy “who me?” kind of energy. Len, for most of the play, is bewildered or playing the straight man (no pun intended) role, which is serviceable. It seems a bit cliche to place the father character in this very superfluous position in relation to his father. He’s at his best and most believable when he and Kevin bond and banter over philosophy and literature.
The ending takes a much less realistic turn from the rest of the play and it’s unclear how that feels in conjunction with how satisfying the realism is of most of the play. It certainly unsettles the audience and breaks the pristine setting physically and emotionally, but it also felt a bit heavy handed in its message. For a play that is mostly subtle, restrained, and realistic–it’s off-putting… and yet, that is the point.