Divorce! The Musical

(Lowe Taylor and Rick Segall; photo courtesy Craig Schwartz

When Couples Lose .... Lawyers Win
World Premiere
a kate west review

music, lyrics & book by Erin Kamler
directed by Rick Sparks
musical direction by David O
at Hudson Mainstage Theater
6539 Santa Monica Blvd
Hollywood , CA 90038

(preview February 5)
contact (323) 960-1056 or

The best way to deal with a divorce is from a distance. In the midst of the raw newness, when dealing with a former love as immovable and unfeeling as stone, you are swept away rudderless in a sea of pain. Photo albums are surreal; suddenly you're looking at two strangers, and all those years together washed away in an instant. You are turned inside out and your heart floods your head, so that thinking coherently is no longer possible and you just need to go crawl into that hollow cave of grief until you can deal with normal life skipping by once more. When all that is over and done with however, maybe you can finally laugh about it. Maybe even sing a little. Or hey, even write a musical.

Fresh from divorce number two, Playwright Erin Kamler (heard recently on NPR's "All Things Considered"), did just that. Frustrated with the merciless way divorce lawyers pick apart once-precious memories, Kamler (three-time winner of Stephen Sondheim's Young Playwright's Festival) voiced her own post-romantic experiences in song. The result? "Divorce! The Musical" premieres at The Hudson in Hollywood, a town very well acquainted with liquidating marital assets. On Valentine's Day, no less, exclamation point and all.

Rick Segall and Lowe Taylor are Rich and Penny Hughes, a bright-eyed, optimistic young couple excitedly singing wedding vows at the top of the show ("Till Death Do Us Part"), only to be arguing in a marriage counselor's (Gabrielle Wagner) office a mere three years later (i.e. the very next scene). It can happen that fast. And seems to, more and more lately, especially in our current economic crisis. But back to the show.

The Hughes couple drifts further and further apart, until the money-hungry lawyers devour every last morsel of property. Rich and Penny try their best, like awkwardly attempting to move on with one-night stands in a hilarious musical number "Rebound Sex" which still resonates with the pain of lost love. The lawyers grow progressively more evil and in spite of having every intention of keeping things civil, the couple also succumbs to petty revenge. In between flashy dance routines, the actors sing poignant lyrics on dead love ("There Were Good Things").

Director Rick Sparks and Musical Director David O create some memorable scenes, such as a game show version of divorce mediation. Erin Kamler's lyrics are universally real, hitting home with various audience members (you can always tell the divorcees). Rick Segall is a strong and fervent lost lover, the ex-husband struggling to make sense of his life. Lowe Taylor balances perplexity, horror, despair and longing seamlessly. The two work quite well together, jumping from all the different ranges of emotion, playing off each other exactly the way ex-lovers would. The singing is plentiful and good, especially noted in Taylor's passionate voice. The rest of the talented ensemble, Gabrielle Wagner, Leslie Stevens and Gregory Franklin, play the various friends, lawyers and even parents, in and out of the couple's public break-up. Yes, one of them ends up back with the folks. Will the torture never end?

It is a heart-weary piece, and at barely an hour and a half, it felt like some of the characters might have been fleshed out a bit more. For instance, the do-good lawyer (Leslie Stevens) is seduced to the dark side a tad too quickly and the couple never does make it to court, which might have made for a grander climax, so to speak. But altogether it's a remarkably fun show, in spite of the bitter story. The gist of the show is clear - don't count on happy endings. This is definitely a tough look at divorce (is there any other way to look at it?) and though short, it is well written and oh, so very real. In the end, the couple is able to hold on to parts of the relationship and the memory of how it felt to fall in love in that 'till-death-do-us-part kind of way. Is it possible to remain friends with your ex? Probably not in this show. But anyone can relate to the feelings laid bare here. We've all been there, right?

So it's not quite the typical Hollywood feel-good, but the music is very good, the cast is wonderful and it's all too true. Happy Valentine's Day.

UPDATE: Apparently Producer Rick Culbertson proposed to Playwright Erin Kamler on Opening Night, on yes, Valentine's Day (she accepted), proving there is hope for us all. Whew!

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