On a week when spring holidays brought many of us into close proximity with colorful relations and quirky family lore, the Civilians’ wryly entertaining verbatim play, You Better Sit Down: Tales From My Parents’ Divorce, couldn’t have felt more timely. Directed by Anne Kauffman and now running at the Flea, the piece presents four interwoven monologues, culled from interviews with the performers’ divorced parents (each actor plays his or her mom or dad—or mom and dad). It’s like being privy to several strangers’ family gatherings at once—with no pressure to stifle your giggles, and lots of fascinating kvetching on display.
The four divorce sagas begin post-breakup, then rewind to describe each ill-fated couple’s courtship, wending their way through proposals, I do’s, dissatisfactions, infidelities, lawyers and alimony, and back to the present day. We hear of telephones being thrown, family heirlooms disputed, and children—along with, in one case, several hundred prized comic books—shuttled between homes. In relating these matrimonial misfortunes, the performers also reenact the original interviews: responding to unseen interlocutors, casually stepping away to refill a coffee cup or answer the phone. A shifting array of funky wallpaper patterns, projected upstage, marks the passing eras of the parents’ couplehood and dissolution. Halfway up the back wall is a gap, revealing rows of wooden beams—designer Mimi Lien’s understated nod to the play’s themes of exposure and separation.
You Better Sit Down isn’t just a divorce drama, though; it’s also a chronicle of generational change. These mothers and fathers met and wooed in the ’60s and ’70s, and the radical ambitions of those decades echo the heady optimism of falling in love: We’re told of bohemian festivities, surreptitious encounters with the North Vietnamese; and high hopes for an RFK presidency. The couples’ sobering breakups, years later, coincide with other sorts of cultural retrenchments—a broader backdrop that gives this absorbingly candid piece the breadth to comment on kinships of all configurations, whether divided by divorce or not.