“Bone on Bone” is the perfect title for Marylou DiPietro’s drama, which is having its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Feb. 9. That’s because it’s about two long-married spouses whose relationship has lost its cushioning cartilage.
They don’t hate each other. They may even have a future together. But whenever they interact, it’s awkward and uncomfortable. They just don’t fit together very smoothly, anymore.
Johnathan (John Little) is a successful 60-year-old attorney. He has been married, for the last 35 years, to Linda (Wendy Peace), an artist whose career has never really gotten off the ground. They’re childless and live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
When the play begins, Linda has just received the break she has been waiting for, for decades: The offer of a prestigious job at the Rhode Island School of Design. But she would have to move to Providence, R.I. And John has no interest in leaving New York.
So they discuss options: Visiting each other on weekends, finding a place to live halfway between Providence and New York, and so on. But they can’t come up with a mutually satisfying solution. And so she goes, and he stays, and their marriage is left in a state of limbo.
“Bone on Bone” is basically a series of conversations between the two, before and after the move. There are no dramatic confrontations or emotional fireworks: That’s not the kind of people Linda and Johnathan are. And there are no smoking guns: Johnathan wonders, early on, if Linda is having an affair with Ernesto — the man who offered her the job, and who was a mentor of hers, years ago — but there doesn’t seem to be much substance to his suspicion.
The humor in “Bone on Bone” is mostly of the dry and witty variety. When Linda informs the jealous Johnathan that Ernesto has been married for longer than they have, Johnathan responds, “I thought no one was married for longer than we have.” And when they’re discussing the idea of Johnathan retiring early and becoming a novelist, Linda says “You could be the next John Grisham” and Johnathan shoots that idea down: “One John Grisham is more than enough,” he sneers.
Still, this drama-comedy is more drama than comedy, and much of the drama in it comes in the form of watching Linda and Johnathan’s relationship slowly evolve. At the beginning, they annoy each other and bicker in an almost mindless way. What they go through helps them come to a deeper understanding of each other, and themselves.
Which doesn’t mean the relationship is magically fixed; DiPietro’s ending leaves much still unresolved. It just means that this wrenchingly realistic look at a year in the life of a troubled marriage is also something of a journey.
New Jersey Repertory Company presents “Bone on Bone” through Feb. 9; visit njrep.org.
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