What I remember most about the 1989 movie
The War of the Roses
is the spiteful glee with which two people destroyed a house full of possessions that took a lifetime to build.
Delaware Theatre Company's North American premiere of the stage adaptation deprives us of much of that destructive impulse, though much of the story holds the same. Warren Adler adapted his original novel for the stage, and 30 years on, this tale reveals more about our culture than it did in the late 1980s.
The War of the Roses chronicles the unraveling of a seemingly perfect marriage between lobbyist Jonathan Rose (Jack Noseworthy) and his trophy wife, Barbara (Christina DeCicco, excellent in her depiction of callous contempt). She has grown tired of his dismissive attitude and wants a divorce.
Under Bud Martin's expert direction, the action glides between touching moments of the Roses' courtship, their hilarious interactions with a pair of lawyers, and a series of acrimonious arguments. Noseworthy's performance finds moments of romantic gestures that encourage the audience to root for this couple's redemption.
As the lawyers, Lenny Wolpe and Cameron Folmar deliver some of the script's best one-liners.
Paul Tate dePoo III's set elicited gasps when the curtain rose to reveal the Roses' home, a spacious manse of marble tile and handcrafted moldings. After each fight, the lights go out to the sounds of shattered porcelain and torn paintings and then go up again to reveal the material damage inflicted.
That we don't see the couple destroy their possessions reflects on the cost-prohibitive nature of prop and set design. That this story, based on a 1982 book, finds its mounting as a play in 2016 when it could not compete as a movie, shows that our baser urges have, like the Roses' war, escalated. Never has a generation of Americans so much indulged the joy of destruction, with each blockbuster earning applause by wiping out cities with war, alien invasion, and natural disaster.
That divorce, which destroys household wealth more effectively every day, could barely earn similar notice in its visual devastation, shows why Adler and Martin had to humorize this story, and tells us what kind of destruction we've gotten used to.
"The War of the Roses," through Oct. 2 at Delaware Theatre Company, 200 Water St. Wilmington. Tickets: $20-$65. Information: 302-594-1100 or delawaretheatre.org.