My Brilliant Divorce
31/05/2008 - 28/06/2008
26/03/2009 - 11/04/2009
Written by Geraldine Aron
Directed and designed by John Harding
See Ginette McDonald starring in Downstage’s newest production My Brilliant Divorce, a hilarious one-woman tour de force. Wittily observant, achingly funny and heart-wrenchingly real, this comedy explores what life is like for Angela, recently dumped by her accountant husband for a younger model. Emotionally bereft and with self-confidence at an all time low, Angela slowly and at times painfully rebuilds her life. She finds herself adrift in a sea of weird sexual encounters, sneaky solicitors, phone-in counsellors, a bad case of hypochondria and the spectre of poverty. Should she fight to keep her husband? Or should she sign the final papers and move on?
With My Brilliant Divorce, written by Geraldine Aron, Ginette McDonald returns to Downstage Theatre in Wellington, where she began acting professionally at the age of 14. It was at Downstage where she developed the famous “Lyn of Tawa”, a character that she describes as becoming a “Cultural Ambassador & Certifiable Living Treasure”. She has been an important part of the New Zealand entertainment industry for many years as comedienne, actress, producer, director and TV presenter.
My Brilliant Divorce received a Laurence Olivier Award Nomination in the category Best Entertainment for its run at the Apollo Theatre London in 2004. The one-woman comedy is playing at Downstage from Friday 30 May till Saturday 28 June, Monday to Wednesday at 6.30 pm and Thursday to Saturday at 7.30 pm. There will be a $20 preview on Friday 30 May, additional $20 performances on Tuesday 3 and Wednesday 4 June and afternoon matinees at 3 pm on Saturday 14 and 21 June.
Ticket prices range from $39 for a full price ticket, $30 for a concession ticket (65plus and Community Service Card holders), $20 for a student and under 25s ticket and $29 for Downstage members. Special group discounts apply. Tickets can be purchased online at www.downstage.co.nz, at Downstage’s box office or by phone at (04) 801 6946.
GINETTE MCDONALD as Angela Kennedy Lipsky
CREATIVE / PRODUCTION TEAM
Costume/Set Design John Harding
Lighting Design Lisa Maule
Sound Design Gil Eva Craig
Design Assistant Lesley Burkes-Harding
Production Manager Simon Rayner
Technical Operator Marc Edwards
Stage Manager Helena Coulton
Publicity Markus Stitz
Production Photography Stephen A'Court, Markus Stitz
SET CONSTRUCTION John Hodgkins, Iain Cooper, Phil Halascz
Theatre , Solo ,
2 hrs, incl. interval
A better version than the rest of the world has seen?
Review by John Smythe 27th Mar 2009
Having reviewed the opening night of last year’s first season, I don’t intend to repeat myself now. Suffice to say solo player Ginette McDonald has settled into an assured minimalist comedic style that extracts maximum laughs from the audience.
Angela Kennedy Lipsky’s bitter-sweet account of how she has coped over the 3+ years since her husband left her describes the downs and ups of it all with a droll wit that is not so much acerbic as bewildered. But it is all very much removed from the in-the-moment experiences we usually get to share through live theatre performance.
Last year I rationalised that there is dramatic value in our not knowing – and wanting to know – where exactly she is, now, in relation to the tales she’s telling. Indeed, given her Catholic background (lapsed; she married a Jewish accountant) and her various calls to a suicide helpline, I briefly wondered whether she was in a purgatory of her own making (as all purgatories are), doomed to dress dummies in an OxFam shop window until she had faced her demons, forgiven herself, found absolution …
But no, Irish playwright Geraldine Aron has chosen to make Angela tell her anecdotes in the past tense for no good reason that I can discern, which robs them of dramatic immediacy. Simply using the present tense – “and I see him on the escalator” rather than “and I saw him on the escalator” – would immerse Angela more deeply in each recalled emotional experience and so engage our empathy much more effectively.
There is one sequence, tagging Angela’s visit to a sex shop, that suddenly places her right back in the moment when she has to walk home with a huge, gaudy, flashing Sex Shop bag. We are there in the street with her, we share her unspoken feelings, and it’s no wonder this gets the biggest laughs of the night. I have no idea if it was scripted that way but it works a treat.
I’ve already noted that designer/ director John Harding improves on the scripted ‘black space setting with a stuffed toy’ by placing Angela in the OxFam shop window with dummies to dress that subtly represent key characters in her story. I now discover that a listing for My Brilliant Divorce (on irishplayography.com) states that “six recorded voices are also required”. Instead McDonald voices the other characters herself which definitely adds to the entertainment value.
It seems, then, that the Downstage production may be a better version of this play than anyone else in the world has seen. Even so, because its core dramatic content is largely removed from the present moment, the play is safer and more comfy than it could be and not exactly a prime example of the ‘ground-breaking’ theatre Downstage now plans to offer.
It should also be noted that Angela’s inability to see herself as complete without a man annoys the hell out of some women. On the other hand she reveals fallibilities, vulnerabilities and defence mechanisms that many mere mortals recognise and are pleased to see reflected on stage. Either way we can have compassion for her without feeling we have to share her values.
The first season of this production did very well and the opening night response to the return season augurs well for more enthusiastic word-of-mouth recommendations. The only danger, then, is that some people will remain confused as to what exactly Downstage now stands for.
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Conveniently packaged for mass consumption
Review by Helen Sims 25th Jun 2008
My Brilliant Divorce is a one woman play that tells the story of Angela Kennedy Lipsky, recently ditched by her husband in favour of a younger, more exotic model. It ostensibly tells of her struggle through the first few years of ‘singledom’ after spending the majority of her adulthood identified as wife and mother. I think it is supposed to be empowering. Personally I thought it was the opposite. The play is littered with bad and sometimes offensive clichés and stereotypes. It is only near the end, when Angela finally captures another man that she is happy again. (Sorry if I’ve ruined the ending there, but you can see it coming a mile off so I haven’t done a huge disservice.). I found myself feeling far more sympathetic towards Angela’s ex-husband and nest-flown daughter – I’d have left her too.
Ginette McDonald performs the role well, although she had a few slips in her lines on the night I attended which gave the production a slightly unpolished air. Dawn French has played the role in the Apollo in London. The problem is that I suspect that even if the performance was Oscar worthy I would still have not enjoyed this play.
A preliminary issue for me was that the play felt incredibly derivative – it reeks of Bridget Jones for the middle aged. Laughs are cheap – the biggest one comes from sheltered Angela’s escapade in a sex shop. Again, I found myself thinking – no wonder her husband left her. Secondly, the play exploits as many convenient gags and clichés as it can for laughs. The inherent snobbery in the character comes across at several points; most pointedly when she assumes a stereotypical Mexican accent to mimic her cleaner. The “gays”, immigrants and working class trash all come in for objectification by the ex-Mrs Kennedy Lipsky. It all serves to diminish sympathy for her even further. A brief moment of sincerity comes from the complicated relationship she has with her ageing and ailing mother, but it does little to outweigh the rest of the play. The play seems to retreat whenever it comes close to any moment of pathos or absurdity, which makes it uninspiringly flat in terms of an emotional landscape.
Finally, feminism seems to have passed Mrs Kennedy Lipsky by – bereft of the roles of wife and mother poor Angela doesn’t know what to do with herself. It seems that is all she can do, aside from dressing the shop dummies in the window of a charity shop and moaning. It’s a mixed message – despite her supposed newfound liberation she is entirely incomplete … until she shacks up with a new man. The play says something quite unattractive about the conservatism and dependent tendencies of Western middle aged women – something I would strongly object to if I was one of them. But they all seemed to find it hilarious. Personally I was taking mental notes of what to strive against.
The design of the play is an almost redeeming element. John Harding (who is also the director) departed from the direction in the script for a blank stage with a chair, setting it instead in the shop window of an Oxfam opportunity shop (the symbolism was not missed.) This creates visual interst. In terms of Harding’s direction, it was relatively uninspired. The play did not need an interval and I thought could have been improved by being a snappy 90 minutes (although that may be motivated by my boredom). I wasn’t entirely sure if the monologue was meant to be addressed to the dummies or the audience – either way we are convenient captive listeners for her complaints. Sound and lighting design (by Gil Eva Craig and Lisa Maule respectively) are solid, if not wildly creative, although they suit the show.
Maybe I’m the wrong age for this play – after all, I’m not even married yet. Looking around at the rest of the audience it was fairly clear I’m not the target demographic. After taking a look at reviews overseas my suspicions were confirmed – despite Dawn French’s performance being reportedly excellent in the production of My Brilliant Divorce at the Apollo, it did little to redeem the play for ‘alternative’ (read younger) reviewers (see the review on indielondon.co.uk as an example). But even saying that, I have enjoyed and been touched by plays that relate the stories and concerns of the middle aged before. If you are looking for insight or a challenging piece of theatre then My Brilliant Divorce would be best avoided. If, however you would like to see theatre conveniently packaged for mass consumption, then look no further. If it is proving a success commercially for Downstage the I suppose that is good in terms of their fortunes. Personally, I am more than a little tired of this type of theatrical fare.
Originally published in The Lumière Reader.
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Review by Elspeth Sandys 16th Jun 2008
When is a play not a play? The question is rhetorical, but I’ve been asking it ever since seeing (and thoroughly enjoying) My Brilliant Divorce at Downstage. What is troubling about Geraldine Aron’s witty, highly entertaining "play" is that I don’t think it is one. Described by one overseas reviewer as "stand-up tragedy", My Brilliant Divorce is, right from the start, closer to the tradition of stand-up than that of drama. By the end of the evening, the plot has moved along nicely, but the character (this is a one-woman show) has stayed basically the same. To my mind, that places it squarely in the stand-up tradition.
That said, there is little to criticise (though the sound effects are intrusive and largely unnecessary) in the way this piece of theatre is presented. The decision of director John Harding to set the action in an Oxfam shop, complete with tailors’ dummies, is brilliant, providing Ginette McDonald with handy tools to help in the realisation of Angela, whose monologue this is, and her supporting characters. With the aid of a few pieces of costume, a roll-along toy dog and some clever lighting (Lisa Maule), Angela’s story, post-separation from her husband, rattles along at cracking pace. [More]
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Review by Lynn Freeman 13th Jun 2008
This is an endearing solo play about a woman, reluctantly divorced, trying to cope with being alone despite her frustrations with her husband. It’s a play that will resonate with many, and even if you’re in a happy ever after relationship, or happily alone, there are more than enough laughs to keep you entertained.
The plot itself is not startlingly original and indeed, verges into the predictable. But it’s charmingly written and played with attitude and gusto by Ginette McDonald. That gusto is important, otherwise Angela Kennedy Lipsky could be a little too nice and naïve, a little too bland. McDonald never lets sentimentality take over and her humour is wry not soppy. She quickly builds an excellent rapport with her audience and holds it from start to finish.
Intelligent direction by John Harding (also the set designer) sees Angela, a former shop dresser, dressing mannequins in the style of the people she’s talking about – her errant husband with a penchant for younger foreign women, and those usurping women themselves, her ever critical mother, the people at the end of the helplines she frequents. It’s neatly done and very effective, far better than having to build them out of thin air.
There’s a bit of Bridget Jones, a bit of Shirley Valentine in My Brilliant Divorce, in a good way.
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Even in divorce there’s comedy
Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 02nd Jun 2008
Ginette McDonald and Downstage are on to a winner with Geraldine Aron’s very funny light comedy about the tragedy of middle-aged loneliness.
In this solo play Ginette McDonald plays Angela Kennedy Lipsky, a lapsed Catholic from Ireland whose Jewish husband Max (aka The Roundhead) has run off with a younger woman. After the initial euphoria of freedom and after her daughter has also left home, Angela realizes that she has only her dog Axel for company.
Director and designer John Harding has cleverly set the play in the window of an Oxfam opportunity shop in London. Angela used to be a window dresser and so there are mannequins which Angela casually dresses and occasionally talks to as she tells us the story of her post-divorce life and its funny disasters.
So while she reads the Lonely Hearts section of Time Out, meets a man for a drink who doesn’t match his own description, lies about her age (and Axel’s), visits a Soho sex shop with an assistant who loudly announces each purchase for all to hear, phones her conventional mother back in Ireland, and sends herself a welcome home postcard when she treats herself to a holiday in a resort hotel for singles, the humour is sharp and constant as it is in a successful sitcom such as Frazier.
But while the pain of loneliness, the feelings of exclusion from society, the calls to a suicide helpline, and listening to the quiet gurgling in the water pipes in the middle of the night, are all delicately modulated in Ginette McDonald’s performance, these moments play second fiddle to the next eagerly awaited laugh line and the next hilariously mordant description of the Roundhead’s bimbos or her misogynistic lawyer or her gay American house guests.
Ginette McDonald peoples the stage with clear snapshots of the characters and, of course, she misses none of the humour in a performance that had her fans on opening night applauding very loudly.
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Insightful, moving and very funny
Review by John Smythe 01st Jun 2008
Ginette McDonald the actor, leading lady, character-actress, comedienne, public speaker and entertaining raconteur all come together here to share the painfully funny experience of Angela Kennedy Lipsky’s three year journey from broken marriage to divorce.
The script for My Brilliant Divorce, written by Galway-born Geraldine Aron, apparently suggests a black space setting with a stool and stuffed toy. Here, however, set and costume designer John Harding – who also directs (stepping in for an indisposed Geraldine Brophy, who first proposed the project and worked through the pre-production phase) – has picked up on Angela’s part-time occupation as a window-dresser in an Oxfam op-shop. Accompanied by Axel, her (stuffed) dog, she chats to us from the display window dotted with dummies which she drapes on second-hand clothes that come to represent key characters in her story. The device works very well.
As the tale unravels our attention is subtly drawn to one or the other by Lisa Maule’s mostly gentle lighting, which also has explosive moments, and Gil Eva-Craig’s sound design (all operated by Marc Edwards) adds further dramatic texture, most notably through three Guy Fawkes nights and a cathartic thunder storm.
All these elements serve to support McDonald’s perfectly pitched performance, securely rooted in Angela’s being while making it seem totally natural for her to slip into a range of character voices. This is not as an actress displaying her skills but a deeply hurt person finding therapeutic value in objectifying, and coming to grips with, the world that has messed her about.
Max (nick-named Roundhead; real name Mervyn), the accountant with a solid client list, is the ever-loved Jewish husband she cannot quite shake off despite his abandoning her first for Mexican Rosa then Croatian Mirianna – whose proclivities are reported on to Angela by cleaning lady Lena and her sister Mena. Sylvia is the once close friend who tends to exclude Angela more now she has become single ("Roundhead got custody of the married friends").
From her work-places come gay window-dresser Findlay, a chemist called Mr Gloot with a strange lunchtime habit and his very young product-pinching shop girl. A singles dating service produce encounters with a fruity-voiced man who is also very short (exploited for cheap laughs which to me is a sad lapse of judgement on Aron’s part) and name-dropping Bert, a rock scene fellow traveller.
The professional men in her life include Dr Steadman, who quietly indulges her compulsive diagnosis of usually terminal diseases; her gynaecologist, whose advice prompts a hilarious sequence involving a sex shop; and the psychiatrist she consults to avoid becoming a recluse.
Closer to home, yet only remotely connected to the story, is her young adult daughter Vanessa, now engaged to a rock band drummer Angela calls Hot Sticks. I’m surprised at how little is made of this relationship given the rippling undercurrent of Angela’s inability to win her own (Irish Catholic) mother’s approval – superbly evoked in script and performance – until circumstances force Angela’s unconditional love to surface. Maybe it’s history repeating itself: parents split up, child survives by focusing on her own life and future, guilt-ridden mum tries to do the same.
Angela makes more than one call to a suicide help line – humour is even extracted from that – and we are kept guessing as to how this story will resolve. She is not given a particular time from which to narrate her story, but she does recount each episode in the past tense so she is somewhere down the track: in limbo, purgatory, a whole new life …? There is dramatic value in our wanting to know.
Especially as recreated by Ginette McDonald, Angela does establish a strong relationship with us, the audience, commanding empathy and a real concern for how it will all turn out. Her way of sharing the experience is truly entertaining, yet when she says, "I wouldn’t wish the last three years on my worst enemy," the pain that has lurked behind the chatty bravado comes clearly into perspective.
The adage that truth plus pain equals comedy – which underpins most Irish and Jewish humour – is well and truly proved in this insightful, moving and very funny production of My Brilliant Divorce.
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