There has been a sea change in the attitudes of women who have come to resent the expectation that they should “do it all” (work, take care of the children, and run the household). Many have decided they will not expend their energy juggling the pressures of career and family, even if their husbands are helpful and they have nannies and maids.
Expectations between a husband and wife about marriage, career, and family should be ironed out before marriage. However, circumstances and people change; oftentimes, what is expected is improperly visualized and the reality is very different than one’s illusions. Worse, the desires and needs of individuals are not known until after great damage is done. The siren call of marriage has shipwrecked hundreds of thousands on the rocks of divorce because of an inability to communicate and work out perspectives and attitudes.
Playing With Grownups by Hannah Patterson and directed by Hannah Eidinow is an admixture of comedy and drama about family, relationships, marriage, and assumptions about each. With a deep revelatory presentation, Patterson explores the issues of improperly visualized expectations and the illusions of maintaining a family and marriage when the idea of love is more valuable than the reality until someone grows up and confronts the hard truth. When Robert (Mark Rice-Oxley with well meaning obliviousness), invites Stella (an effective Daisy Hughes), and long-time friend and boss Jake (the always interesting Alan Cox), to see baby Lily and have dinner, we recognize that Joanna (Trudi Jackson in a poignant, heartfelt turn), is exhausted and has reached a high simmering impatience and frustration with taking care of nine-week-old Lily and breast feeding.
Rather than send the guests home to mollify Joanna, Robert insists they stay and be entertained. He intends to use the occasion to tighten his friendship with Jake to insure he will not lose his professorship in the department restructuring. His choice in favor of his job exacerbates the obvious disconnection between the husband and wife. It is clear Robert isn’t reading Joanna’s signs and, if he is, he anticipates his needs are more vital than her emotional and psychological well being.
As bottles of wine are opened and the contents greedily downed, the guests exchange their histories for Stella, an interested, wise, and mature sixteen-year-old whom we assume is looking for a father figure in Jake, a forty-something. As they review their past, we learn the dynamics of the relationship between Joanna, Jake, and Robert, how they lived together in college, and how Joanna was the hen amongst the roosters. Though Joanna was with Jake, she decided to marry Robert because of his stability.
As the evening trundles onward, the wine brings Joanna to a boiling point and she confronts Robert after Stella and Jake have gone out for the ordered pizzas. We learn that she is completely a-maternal, disgusted with breast feeding, and unreplenished by motherhood and marriage to Robert. Does seeing Robert with a lithesome teenager remind her of what she’s lost forever? Is Robert’s fear of losing his job a downturn that immobilizes her? Is she just exhausted and had too much to drink?
Robert hopes that Joanna will feel better after she rests and they go to bed. Joanna and Robert set up Stella and Jake on the couch for an overnight at Jake’s request, presumably because he cannot drive himself and Stella home safely. All say goodnight. However, now it is Robert’s turn to boil over. Whether Joanna has worked him up with her truth telling or whether he lusts after the beauteous and lush Stella, Robert confronts Jake as a lecherous old man and the situation explodes reversing the intentioned good will of the evening.
In the dark night of the early morning, the weights of their own soul burdens are brought to bear for each of the characters as words and truths hit their targets. Robert and Joanna are forced to confront their expectations and assumptions in light of the realities. Jake and Stella have been interesting catalysts for the drama to unfold, but have also been caught up in the reality of their own psychological underpinnings. None escape unscathed, but they do grow up to “face the music.” Whether they change as a result is left up to the audience to divine.
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