Kat @ 'Fiercely Independent' - the only way from rock bottom is up

What’s it about?

After four years of marriage, a young couple tries to resolve their issues over 24 hours in a hotel room with no electronics or distractions from the outside world.

my experience

“Ugly, stupid. Is this our next step to annihilation?” That has to be my favorite line. Because if that’s annihilation, what happens if you can’t save your marriage? THAT must be fucking deadly.

If you wanna sit for an hour and a half to hear a stand-up comic wife sound like she is on the verge of breaking out into song at any moment, and a husband who uses “cute” and “dumb” to describe her in the first five minutes of this play, then you’re gonna be such a fan of this show. Don’t even get me started on the longest, most vague and awkward conversation I’ve ever had to be a part of. I was an uncomfortable third wheeler.

I really wanted to see this piece because it reminded me of a play that I’d written my freshman year of college, and am still revising in hopes of seeing it on stage someday. In my play, a couple on the brink of a breakup are forced to converse in their apartment after an unexpected citywide blackout. In Fiercely Independent, a husband and wife make a not-so-binding contract to hash out their problems in a hotel room with no distractions. You can see why I’d be intrigued, right? Unfortunately, my high hopes turned into a big disappointment. And a headache.

I didn’t understand why they never got to the nitty-gritty of their problems. The wife, Julie, proclaimed issues left and right that should have resonated with me but never did. I get it, she was scared. She felt like she wasn’t enough. She used humor as her protection from the “life monster” (her words, not mine) that is the real world. She wanted her husband to love her and give her attention. But her monologues were so broad that they always sounded like an actress reading from a script, and not a wife trying to fix what’s left of her marriage. I really wanted to root for her, because what’s better than the satisfaction of a mistreated wife finally taking a stance and becoming fiercely independent? But she didn’t do that. Instead, she became fiercely annoyingly. At least she tried, right? An A for effort.

But the husband, Robert, had no character arc. He started off “the encounter” (they BOTH called their last hope of saving their marriage this? Maybe they should have called it quits long ago) by saying her comedic performances were “dumb and stupid,” and that he was embarrassed by her. Then he whined about not being enough for her and that he was the breadwinner of the house and that she no longer touched him and he didn’t know how to make her happy. You know, men stuff. I was actually pretty upset when, toward the end of the performance, he asked her, “How can I make you happy?” If you have to ask your wife of four years how to make her happy, what are you honestly doing with her? Why are you wasting her time? And yours?

Even though the writing was pretty cringey and inauthentic, I still noticed parts that made me smile a little. Like when the husband had the bellman deliver these sweet, yellow flowers to her after she asked him, “What do you think of me?” (Talk about perfect timing!) He responded, “I know you like flowers. And I know I like giving them to you.” It did stroke my heartstrings a smidge. But again, four years of marriage? I think we’re past the flowers stage. After their tempers simmered down a bit, they ordered Chinese food and while they were waiting they decided to play a card game where one person reads movie lines from a card and the other guesses the title. They sat in these white bathrobes and laughed in each other's company. I especially loved when Robert recited lines from Casablanca and Julie joined him, and they got closer and closer to each other. There I felt a few more heartstrings get pulled. Maybe that's it. Maybe they’ll always have Paris. Yeah, sure, their Paris is full of unknown insecurities and a never-ending cycle of blaming the other for their problems. But Paris is different for everyone. And there is a beauty to being dysfunctional, because it means you’ve hit rock bottom. And really, the only way from rock bottom is up.

The actors were amazing. I envisioned Julie as a Broadway singer because her inflections were so chirpy, and Robert as a ‘70s detective because he usually had his hands in his pocket, like he was always thinking about the next clue to a complex scandal (maybe someone should write a show with these characters… I’m intrigued now). So maybe that’s why their dialogue seemed unreal to me.

But also the writing itself needed to stem from a deeper place than surface problems. Writers are supposed to tell stories that not only matter to the audience, but to the characters themselves. Because in the end, the story pertains to those characters and we want to care about the things they’re going through. Even if their marriage couldn’t be fixed, I wanted to care about WHY it didn’t work, and maybe do some meta-reflection on my own relationships. But it missed the mark completely. Maybe I could give them a few pointers from my script.

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