It's 1977. There’s no internet. No cell phones. No cable TV. Only three networks. And America is having a nervous breakdown.
I Love My Wife is a sex farce. But it’s also a lot more. This is a story about searching for meaningful human connection in the midst of massive cultural change, a theme as relevant now as it was thirty years ago. There were several musicals in the 1970s that were about this – Company, Follies, Pippin, The Me Nobody Knows, The Rocky Horror Show, A Little Night Music, Mack and Mabel, Runaways, and others.
I think this show is telling us that as fun as Free Love might have sounded, as exciting as the Sexual Revolution might have seemed, those were dangerous times emotionally, and only a really solid relationship, like a good marriage or a lifelong friendship, could be sturdy enough to get you through it. The 1970s were wild waters to navigate. It was only allegory in Rocky Horror but it was true in real life – the Sexual Revolution wore people out and left them feeling empty and alone.
By the end of the decade, Cosmopolitan magazine reported that “so many readers wrote negatively about the Sexual Revolution – expressing longings for vanished intimacy and the now elusive joys of romance and commitment – that we began to sense there might be a sexual counter-revolution under way in America.” In 1982, New York magazine published an article called, “Is Sex Dead?” Esquire published “The End of Sex,” which said, “As it turned out, the Sexual Revolution, in slaying some loathsome old dragons, has created some formidable new ones.”
Musicals are about emotion, but in this show (as in Company) most of the emotions are suppressed, hiding out in the subtext of the dialogue. These characters often say one thing and mean another. They fight about one thing but they’re really fighting about something else. Likewise, most of the songs don’t reveal character as much as provide social and historical context.
Working on this show is unusually interesting for me because I was born in 1964, right on the cusp between the Boomers and Generation X, and I want to understand the culture that shaped me as a child. I remember the 70s, but only from a kid’s perspective. So it’s been a lot of fun for me to rediscover this crazed decade and to understand the culture I remember, now from an adult point of view. I loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show when I was a kid, but now I understand how precisely it tapped into the cultural zeitgeist and how remarkably bold its statement about women was. It was a fascinating and disorienting time in our history.
Of course, we live in times just as turbulent today. Maybe if we take another look back we can understand where we are now.
Long Live the Musical!