We finished blocking the show tonight. It's already really, really funny. There's some extended physical comedy late in Act II that's worthy of Laverne and Shirley and I Love Lucy. I'm glad I have such an open, fearless, and funny cast. I continue my love affair with actors.
So I'm thinking about the show tonight, now that all the pieces are in place, first drafty though they may be. And I'm thinking in particular about the last moments of the show. Alvin sings the last song, "I Love My Wife," Harvey sings a bit of wrap-up narration, and then we see this very small, final scene. A few lines between Cleo and Monica, and between Alvin and Wally, then the other couple leaves and we have a final "married moment" between Alvin and Cleo as the lights fade. That last scene is dripping with subtext. The surface dialogue hides all the repercussions and implications of the sexual adventure they've had. As we watch them part company, we realize that what's most striking about that last scene is what is left unsaid.
And because it's so subextual, there are several valid ways to play it. As we choose, we have to be careful that we don't impose our current cultural norms and assumptions on these characters living -- and written -- in 1977. The most interesting choice of course is for them all to have different, even conflicting responses. Because the show focuses on the theme of friendship so heavily, I think we can assume that the authors meant us to believe that these friendships would survive. But in what form? With what differences?
The lyric to the final song, "I Love My Wife," is about how these guys will probably always look at pretty women and they'll always think about sex, but they only love their wives. But this isn't a 1920s musical comedy, this is a 1970s concept musical, so when Alvin and Wally sing those words at the end, we have to understand that in 1977 the title phrase may imply different things to different people. To one man, it may mean he'd never look at another woman. To the next man, it may mean he'll sleep with other people, but he only loves his wife. Looking at pretty women may well imply something more for Wally than it does for Alvin.
As I've written here before, this show is a lot like Company (1970) in many ways. One parallel is that in both shows, much of the dialogue hides the real meaning beneath it. People say one thing and we know they mean another. Two people fight over one thing but they're really fighting over something else. That's so real and so emotionally truthful. And that's part of the process the actors are going through right now, plumbing the depths of these interesting, complicated, neurotic people. We're finding wonderful little typical married moments, when they'll snap at each other or be annoyed or impatient. Maybe the message of I Love My Wife is similar to the message of Company -- that being married is difficult and frustrating and maddening and it's better than being alone.
This story is part Hero Myth, with Alvin as the Hero on a quest to find Ultimate Knowledge, and Wally as his Obi Wan-Kenobi, his Glinda the Good Witch. (Interesting that The Wiz opened in 1975, just a couple years before Wife.) Alvin's problem is that, as in Pippin (1972), this hero's guide isn't totally reliable -- he has his own agenda. Alvin's quest story uses all three classic struggles we learned about in Drama 101 -- man vs. society, man vs. man, and man vs. himself.
But this story is also the Eden story, with Alvin as Adam, Cleo (and maybe also Monica?) as Eve, and Wally as the snake. All about temptation. Also like Pippin. And Rocky Horror.
What was it about the 70s?
Long Live the Musical!