Karen and Peter Richards pledged themselves to each other for better or worse, many years ago. But now the “worse” part has come. Peter, described as one of the top art gallery owners in the world, confesses to an affair with a woman young enough to be his daughter, with all the usual clichés: “It just happened,” and “She’s no one,” and so on.
Karen — Peter’s business partner as well as the mother of their three grown children — is upset, but thinks they can work it out together. Maybe she’s in denial. But she forgives him.
Peter: “I’ve behaved abominably to you.”
Karen: “Oh, it’s all right.”
Karen didn’t realize, though, that Peter wasn’t just admitting to an indiscretion. He was telling her that he wants their marriage to be over. And the more she holds on, the more he wants to get away.
All that happens early in the play — which is currently playing at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, in its world premiere — but there are many more heartbreaks, misunderstandings, awkward attempts at uncoupling and confused attempts at reconciliation to come. Karen (played by Kristin Griffith) and Peter (Ed Kershen) spend most of the play bickering in their West Village brownstone, which has so much expensive artwork on its walls it could be a gallery itself. They are deeply bonded to each other, and will remain so, whether or not their marriage ends.
This isn’t exactly new territory for a play to explore, and playwright Deborah Rennard, who is also a singer, producer and actress (some may know her as Sly on television’s “Dallas”), saddles it with a further obstacle, in the form of Peter’s mistress Lucia (Daniela Mastropietro).
Lucia, a 26-year-old aspiring artist, is intended to be a temptress. But really, she’s so shrill and demanding she would send any sane man running in the other direction. Peter isn’t just a heel; he’s a fool. “For Worse” starts to seem like a sitcom, with the clueless husband and the patient wife hurling zingers at each other, and the ditzy mistress occasionally showing up to offer some comic relief.
There’s a genuinely surprising development at the end of the first act that takes the second act in a direction I didn’t see coming, though the focus of the play remains the same: Karen and Peter trying to make sense of where they are in their lives, in their own minds and in relation to each other. The best thing about “For Worse” is that they eventually get to a place where they are communicating on a very deep level. But there’s a lot of silliness along the way.
“For Worse” will be at the New Jersey Repertory Company through April 10; visit njrep.org.