Wallace Shawn’s morbidly entertaining Marie and Bruce begins with a bang when Marie announces to the audience that she plans to leave her “God-damned irritating” husband. Marisa Tomei, who plays the fed-up Marie in this New Group revival of Shawn’s 1979 dark comedy, is mesmerizing to watch as she spews invective at the impossibly clueless Bruce over breakfast, wringing uncomfortable laughter from the audience with her savage contempt. When Bruce (the terrifically deadpan Frank Whaley) says in defense of his poor behavior, “I’m only a person,” Marie viciously mocks his whiny voice: “You’re only a person? Well, pardon my mistake—I just thought you were a shit, you filthy cock-sucking turd!”
Set on a sweltering summer day in New York City, the play takes us through the couple’s respective afternoons (she humorously contemplates sex with a dog, he rents a hotel room and watches a woman undress from his window). Later they meet up at a dinner party, expertly choreographed by director Scott Elliott with help from a revolving floor under the table that spins the strong, nine-member cast like a merry-go-round. Though it’s initially difficult to sympathize with the poison-tongued Marie and the emotionally distant Bruce, their fragility ultimately shines through for a heart-breaking conclusion.