Matthew Maher is a brave man. Along with three other members of the Civilians investigative theater troupe, founded in 2001 and based here in Brooklyn, Mr. Maher interviewed his parents about their marriage and subsequent divorce for a new project entitled You Better Sit Down: Tales From My Parents’ Divorce. The group is known for creating theater based on real life, as it did with Brooklyn At Eye Level, which tells the story of the much-disputed Atlantic Yards from various perspectives.
You Better Sit Down, directed by Anne Kauffman, aims to be an interactive and unique event in the world of theater, and promises to “reveal the stories behind the statistics.” During a two night run at Galapagos Art Space in Dumbo later this week, the show will be filmed and edited for online release, ensuring that these precious rare moments of honesty will flourish on the internet. Mr. Maher will portray his own parents’ story, as will fellow actors Caitlin Miller, Jennifer Morris and Robbie Sublett. Brooklyn The Borough got a chance to email with Mr. Maher about creating a performance that hits so close to home.
Brooklyn The Borough: The play is based on your own parents’ experiences with divorce – and, to gather material for the work, you all interviewed your mothers and fathers about their divorce. How was this process? Are you closer to your parents now, or just really, really creeped out?
Matthew Maher: A little from column A and a little from column B. A lot of the stuff I already knew (after all, I was there for most of it) but there were definitely some surprising gems. It’s surprising and a little disturbing to see your parents in such a new light–to imagine them as being my age or younger, falling in love, getting upset, etc. But overall it was a unifying experience for sure. We’ll see how I feel after they see the show.
Brooklyn The Borough: With temporary wedded bliss and subsequent early divorce debacles saturating pop-culture, do you think we have more interest in the topic of divorce today than ever before? Is divorce 2009’s zeitgeist?
MM: It’s been in the zeitgeist for a while, I think. When our parents were getting divorced, it was just becoming the relatively common thing it is now. What’s more the zeitgeist, I think, is that the children of divorced parents are now of “marrying age”: knowing, on the one hand, that marriage is not all its cracked up to be–it’s no guarantee of anything–but on the other hand, in many cases, still yearning for love and commitment and stability. Even in the most unlikely cases, I don’t think anyone is deeply shocked when a couple in a magazine breaks up. It often confirms what our cynical minds believe, even as our optimistic hearts hope for the best.
Brooklyn The Borough: Do you think (based mostly on silly stereotypes) that Brooklynites have a different relationship towards divorce than Manhattanites? We do have a different marriage rate, different birth rates, and different divorce rates than our urban island counterparts – do you think this affects our borough’s feelings towards divorce – and do you think it will affect your audience’s reaction to the show?
MM: I’m not sure. I really don’t know the statistics or history or what they mean in terms of New York. I can say that all my married friends live in Brooklyn because you get more space for less money–or at least you used to–and for the people I know, there’s an overall perception that one moves to Brooklyn to live a more domestic life…so…beyond that I can’t say. But the show is built to engage people no matter where they stand: recently married, long-time divorcees, committed bachelors…we’re ready for whatever people are bringing to the table.
Brooklyn The Borough: Is the key to marriage just sticking it out and having a lot of room in your heart to forgive? After working through all the material you’ve gathered, interviewing your parents, rehashing failed marriages, finding silver linings, what’s the real lesson learned here? Is wedded bliss possible? Or should we just jump in, pray, and at least celebrate the good shows we can get out of our (and others’) marital mistakes?
MM: All of the above. I mean, the show doesn’t really suggest any solid ideas about how to have a successful relationship. If anything, it reaffirms that successful relationships, like the people in them, are a mystery; a complex and beautiful mystery, but still a mystery. Everyone we interviewed for this show embarked on a grand endeavor, with their whole selves, hoping for the best. In that context, words like “mistakes” or “failure” or even “success” kind of lose their relevance. However it worked out, they all gained greater clarity about who they were and what they wanted from other people. That, and they had some kids that they’re fond of, or at least that’s what they tell us. We’ll see how they feel about it after they see the show.