A 50ish couple (or is it three?) confront the dissolution of a twenty-year relationship in Paul Coates’ The End Of It, a World Premiere production elevated above a too generic script by sensational direction, fine acting, and one humdinger of a gimmick.

Kelly-Paul-2 Joanna (Kelly Coffield Park) and Drew (Coates) have only just bid goodnight to the last of their party guests when Drew interrupts their long-married-couple banter with a sudden announcement, four little words that hit Joanna like a bombshell: “I want a divorce.”

Perhaps even more shocking to Joanna is Drew’s confession that he’s been thinking about ending their marriage for years now, years during which Joanna remained blissfully unaware that anything was amiss in their imperfect yet still better-than-the-alternative relationship.

SM3M0067 It’s about this time that playwright Coates reveals his doozy of a gimmick, for when Drew’s wife storms out of their upscale Los Angeles living room, it’s not Joanna who returns only seconds later but Joseph (David Youse), and before you know it Drew has been replaced by Andrew (William Franklin Barker) as the two men continue where Joanna and Drew have left off, with references to the same friends, the same infidelity, the very same marriage—only this time it’s two gay men facing The End Of It.

SM3M0115 And then, as the program’s cast of characters suggests, we have Jo (Ferrell Marshall) and Dee (Wendy Radford) center stage, with Joanna and Joseph seated on one side and Drew and Andrew on the other as silent witnesses to a marriage that has reached its final days.

Playwright Coates’ gimmick is so clever that you can’t help wondering why it hasn’t been done before, and were his dialog at the level of Harold Pinter’s equally gimmicky Betrayal, The End Of It would be the brilliant piece of theater it aspires to be.

At its best, and despite its focus on the end of a relationship (or three relationships), The End Of It may be the strongest possible argument for gay marriage, showing as it does that relationships are relationships, whether it’s an opposite-sex couple or two gay men or two women.

At its least successful, Drew/Andrew/Dee’s complaints about and Joanna/Joseph/Jo’s defense of their marriage remain frustratingly unspecific, perhaps in an attempt to ensure that their words never get too explicitly opposite-sex, or gay-male, or lesbian.

Also, though it may make dramatic sense to have Act One’s 1:00 a.m. “Shock” morph in a mere nine hours into Act Two’s 10 a.m. “Acceptance,” Joanna/Joseph/Jo’s change of heart happens too quickly to be believed, and while tantalizing clues are dropped to explain Drew/Andrew/Dee’s “suffocation” in a twenty-year relationship, these need to be more sufficiently fleshed out.

KA4U0100 Fortunately, we’ve got director extraordinaire Nick DeGruccio on hand to work his magic with an often mind-bending staging that cleverly blurs the lines between couples, so that what we end up experiencing is not three distinct pairings but three interwoven permutations of the same relationship, and having all six characters interacting with each other by the end of The End Of It is particularly stunning.

Barker, Coates, Marshall, Park, Radford, and Youse all give intense, committed performances, and while it can occasionally be disconcerting to have three versions of the same couple not quite on the same page dramatically, these are first-rate actors, with Youse’s profoundly felt, in-the-moment performance a particular standout in never letting us catch the actor “acting.” Less successful is Coates, who despite considerable acting chops failed to convince me of Drew’s heterosexuality.

KA4U0050 Scenic design whiz François-Pierre Couture has created another eye-catching set, this time round a white-on-white living room with striking black highlights. Steven Young lights Couture’s gorgeous design with his accustomed expertise and flair. Morgan DeGroff’s costumes suit each character to a T. Sound designer Ollie Marland’s song selection (Adele’s “Turning Tables,” Louis Armstrong’s “Moon River,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s “Same Love,” Rihanna’s “We Found Love”) and his own original music are a just-right fit as well. Todd Nielsen is production stage manager and Kimberly Weber assistant stage manager.

I’m glad I got to see The End Of It if only for its ingenuity, its execution, and some darned good acting. Rapper Macklemore may have put it more succinctly when he wrote “Strip away the fear. Underneath it’s all the same love,” yet in its own imperfect way, The End Of It too proves that love is love regardless of who loves whom.

Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
September 26, 2013
Photos: Michael Lamont

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