Review: Another Marriage at Steppenwolf Theatre Portrays a Marriage That Could Be Yours or Mine

You may recognize aspects of your own marriage or that of a friend or relative in Another Marriage, Steppenwolf Theatre’s world premiere play. The script by actor Kate Arrington succeeds on many levels. The most emotionally fulfilling (and perhaps draining) is that her play is a realistic, unsentimental journey through the years of a relationship—its trials, tribulations, separations, reunions, anxieties and rebirths.

Arrington has created and director Terry Kinney has staged a play with an interesting time structure. It begins at an ending and is chronicled throughout by projected date stamps typed on a tablet by a character who turns out to be part of the family. Its three primary actors—Ian Barford, Judy Greer and Caroline Neff—are all veteran performers capable of scene stealing; they all bring a sense of connection to their roles. Together, they make Another Marriage valid and real. 

The story revolves around Nick (Barford) and Sunny (Greer) who meet in 1998 as college English lit students in Chicago. Five years later, now married, they’re both writers but Nick has multiple books published before Sunny succeeds in getting one published. Talent or a bit of white male privilege?  Nick is sometimes clueless about women, especially in the scene where he presents Sunny with her Christmas gift: He has had her (unpublished) book “published” for her—and doesn’t understand why this doesn’t thrill her. “You are a sweet boy … and a good husband …but you are so … dumb,” Sunny tells him.

ff and Greer.
Neff and Greer. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Five years later, baby Josephine is part of the family. Nick and Sunny’s whispered conversation about perpetual parental fears will ring true to every parent in the audience. But even as Nick and Sunny take joy in their baby, the other woman enters the story, in the form of Macassidy or Mac, played by Neff, a young literary assistant and worshiper of Nick, the author. Four months later, the marriage goes through a dramatic change. 

Baby Josephine grows up a bit to be Jo (Nicole Scimeca), who now occasionally narrates her parents’ story, including taking us back to the life of Sunny’s mother, who died in childbirth.

Life goes on and the marriage changes as the years pass in Jo’s projected captions. 

Kinney’s direction of this talented cast is smooth and naturalistic and the two-hour runtime moves briskly. Neff and Barford are Steppenwolf veterans who each have played important roles in Steppenwolf productions. For Neff, Describe the Night, SeagullDance Nation, The Flick and Airline Highway. For Barford, Linda Vista, where he played another clueless guy, The Minutes, and Three Days of Rain. Greer, making her Steppenwolf debut, has a long list of film/TV roles, including Ant-Man and the Wasp, Jurassic World and HBO’s White House Plumbers. Scimeca, an experienced young actor, is notable in her Steppenwolf debut.

Barford, Greer and Scimeca. Photograph by Michael Brosilow.

Robert Brill’s scenic design expands on the simplicity of the Ensemble Theater stage, adding a downstairs exit and using a turntable for several conversation scenes. That slowly spinning turntable is a practical way to ensure that every seat in the theater-in-the-round space has a clear view of all the action. Projections are by Michael Salvatore Commendatore and lighting by Heather Gilbert. Sound design is by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen. Mieka van der Ploeg is costume designer. Production stage manager is Christine D. Freeburg.

Arrington, a Steppenwolf ensemble member since 2007, gives her play a Chicago setting but then fails to establish a sense of place in her script; there are very few Chicago references or connections. The play could easily be set in Des Moines or St. Louis. 

Another Marriage has been extended through July 30 at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St. Running time is two hours with one intermission. Tickets are $20-$60 for performances Tuesday-Sunday.

For more information on this and other plays, see theatreinchicago.com.

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Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.