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Theater review: 'Marie and Bruce' -- 2 stars

Marisa Tomei and Frank Whaley in

Marisa Tomei and Frank Whaley in "Marie and Bruce"

Marie and Bruce

2 stars

Perhaps “Marie and Bruce” was shocking when it was first performed at the Public Theater in 1980. But as revived by the New Group, in spite of strong performances from Marisa Tomei and Frank Whaley, Wallace Shawn’s absurdist, downbeat drama comes across as a third-rate version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

As the audience enters the theater, Tomei and Whaley are already onstage tossing and turning in a queen-sized bed. Although she looks fetching in lingerie, Marie is uncomfortably coughing and applying nasal spray. Eventually, she addresses us and reveals that she is absolutely miserable and intends to leave her irritating husband.

Throughout the play, we get to know Marie and Bruce on a very personal and gross level. For instance, Marie tells her husband that his trousers smell of urine, after which he unapologetically sprays them with deodorant.

Unlike Marie, who is high-wired, Bruce comes across as a wimpy, empty shell of a man. Although he is just as unhappy as Marie, he does not react to her threats of leaving him with any kind of emotion. Later, Bruce opens up to the audience and talks about his experience of having lunch with a friend and then masturbating alone in a motel room.

Just when it seems like this is a two-character play, a party scene begins that is set in a posh 1980s apartment. In a nice scenic trick, the dining table revolves as the partygoers converse.

In spite of the revealing and occasionally compelling portraits created by Shawn, “Marie and Bruce” is extremely slow-paced and completely devoid of dramatic tension. The shock value wears off after the first 10 minutes, and you are left wondering when the intermission-less 90-minute play will finally end.

Truth be told, playwriting is not Shawn’s best talent. Hearing the erudite actor speak on any number of intellectual topics is far more interesting than sitting through “Marie and Bruce.”

If you go: “Marie and Bruce” plays at Theater Row through May 7. 410 W. 42nd St., 212-239-6200, thenewgroup.org.

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