‘For Worse’ at NJ Rep focuses on wife who won’t leave husband

Ed Kershen and Kristin Griffith. Three decades of marriage and three daughters later Peter has an epiphany and informs his wife that he is in love with another woman whom he has been having an affair with for the past three years. He assumes his wife will leave, but she doesn't, and to make matters worse his girlfriend gives him an ultimatum. Peter’s choices in life are put to the test as he questions the meaning of love, friendship and betrayal. The cast includes Ed Kershen, Kristin Griffith, Daniela Mastropietro and Angie Tennant and is directed by Evan Bergman.
Ed Kershen and Kristin Griffith play a couple crisis in “For Worse” at NJRep in Long Branch, NJ. (PHOTO: SuzAnne Barabas)

Deborah Rennard, the writer of “For Worse,” running through April 10 at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, has seen her share of troubled marriages. She was, after all, the actress who played JR’s secretary on TV’s hit show “Dallas” from 1978-1991.

(If you don’t know “Dallas,” ask your mom or click here)

Her four-character, two-hour world premiere has a twist she might not have seen on that TV set: a man who confesses to his wife of nearly 30 years (and three daughters) that he has been having a four-year affair with a much younger woman and plans to leave.

Daniela Mastropietro and Ed Kershen are lovers in "For Worse." (PHOTO: SuzAnne Barabas)
Daniela Mastropietro and Ed Kershen are lovers in “For Worse.” (PHOTO: SuzAnne Barabas)

Only problem, wife Karen (Kristin Griffith) tells husband Peter (Ed Kershen) she forgives him having said affair with Lucia (Daniela Mastropietro) and wants to work things out.

Peter did not see that one coming. He kinda goes into semi-panic mode as Lucia calls to see if he has done the deed and is outraged he hasn’t walked out. Let’s add another complication. Lucia also happens to be the current  featured artist in Karen and Peter’s NYC gallery.

She also is French-Italian and, as we soon see, has a love for lounging around in seductive black silk lingerie. What Peter sees in Lucia is pretty much your classic cliche: aging man falls for much younger woman who is using him to make her mark in the art world the easy way. What she sees in him is elusive. Would she have got that gallery show if she hadn’t slept with the boss? Probably not.

Peter doesn’t seem that bad. Perhaps a bit clueless and naive, which seems odd for someone involved in the cut-throat world of fine art in Manhattan. He and Karen are partners in life and in business in with an artfully decorated apartment (nicely designed by Jessica Parks and lit by Jill Nagle). Living together, working together … maybe marriage got stale. We don’t learn enough about them to really know. Actually, if play  writer Rennard dumped Lucia as well as gallery intern Ashley (Angie Tennant) who is briefly seen, she could have spent more time on the two people this play is really about.

Karen is a mature, practical, perfectly lovely middle-aged woman. Lucia is a self-centered, demanding, petulant bitch. Besides the sex, which we led to believe is great because Lingerie Lucia is in her 20s and Karen is not, is a bit demeaning. And since the author is female, unsettling.

As Peter’s efforts to convince his wife he is leaving her for someone from their daughters’ generation, his exasperation grows. Juggling one woman in person and the other on the phone had many in the audience around me laughing — often. But Peter just can’t think fast enough as he keeps digging himself in deeper until it is all too much for a man his age to handle.

The actors all deliver under Evan Bergman’s firm direction.  The play, though, needs some tightening and might do better in future as a 90-minute no intermission piece with the husband/wife fleshed out more.