Thursday, November 5, 2009

'You Better Sit Down' and see this

By Meredith Deliso

The latest production from local theater company The Civilians, a recent transplant to Fort Greene that has covered topics ranging from the Atlantic Yards project, in “Brooklyn at Eye Level,” to Evangelical Christian political movement, now turns its eye on divorce.

You Better Sit Down: Tales from My Parents’ Divorce” explores love, marriage, family, and life after a divorce. Conceived by Civilians actress Jennifer Morris (pictured), the production was initially envisioned as a short film about a Tiffany’s lamp. A lamp that is always a point of contention between her divorced parents of actress Jennifer Morris, especially for her mother, who tends to have a dramatic flair.

“If you bring it up, she would talk a blue streak for five minutes,” said Morris, one of the writers on the project. “I find it interesting, putting all of this arguing on an inanimate object that’s passively sitting there while all this stuff swirls around it. That was kind of the inspiration for the whole project.”

Of course, while a lamp sits passively, very much involved in a divorce are the children. After a two-year process, the final idea of the play has the four actors involved, including Morris, interviewing their parents and using part of that dialogue verbatim for the show, where they will then play their parents. Art really does imitate life.

“It felt like a very personal inquiry when we have the children playing the parents,” said Anne Kauffman, one of the co-writers and the director of “You Better Sit Down,” who lives in Prospect Heights. “It’s an investigation of marriage from one generation to another.”

With Morris, Caitlin Miller and Robbie Sublett playing their moms, and Matthew Maher playing both his parents (not all wanted or could be interviewed for the production), the play follows the courtships chronologically in about a dozen chapters, up until the bitter end and beyond.

“We’re interested in what that process is – falling out of love, and what the conditions are that split people apart,” said Kauffman. “And how children are affected…as though it were going to be a handbook for children of this generation.”

On three nights – November 12, 13, and 14 – The Civilians will put on “You Better Sit Down” at the Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO, where they held their benefit earlier this year.

“It seems like a perfect venue for it,” says Morris, a born-and-bred Manhattanite. “It’s a beautiful cabaret space but has an intimate feel to it, which is a great fit for the show. We also get all my mom’s Manhattan friends out to Brooklyn, which is good for them.”

That intimacy, with the parents airing their feelings about a difficult time in their lives, adds to the feeling of that “guy at the end of the bar, singing his woes to the bartender,” adds Kauffman.

The live shows will not be the end of the production; two of the nights will be recorded, and The Civilians will be posting videos of each chapter online in the next several months. In a second phase of the project down the line, the online audience will also have the chance to replicate The Civilians’ process and share their own parents’ stories of divorce by videotaping their interviews and sharing them on the company’s Web site.

“Since divorce is such a common experience, I think the idea is transferable from our company to anyone who wants to participate in the project,” said Steve Cosson, The Civilians’ artistic director. “All these potentially nervous divorced parents are going to face questions by their children.”

Parents, you better sit down for this.

“You Better Sit Down: Tales from My Parents’ Divorce” runs at Galapagos Art Space (16 Main St.) November 12-14. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 718-222-8500.


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