Review by Brian Scott Lipton
Anyone who has been in a decades-long marriage, or even observed one, is acutely aware that the routine of daily life often leaves little time – or reason – to ask the most pertinent question of all: “Do you still love me?” The query may linger in the air, keep one up at night, even be discussed on a psychiatrist’s couch – but it’s rarely spoken.
However, in Chisa Hutchinson’s touching 75-minute monologue, “Proof of Love,” a co-production with New York Theatre Workshop at the Audible Theatre at the Minetta Lane Theatre, those precarious words are actually uttered by Constance Daley (played with understated, finely wrought precision by Brenda Pressley) even though no audible answer can be forthcoming. Her husband of 32 years, Maurice, lies nearby – unconscious – in his hospital bed (the surprisingly vast room tastefully designed by Alexis Distler), yet somehow Constance, an extremely elegant and well-spoken African-American housewife from New Jersey, longs for – in reality, needs – a response in order to go on.
In some small part, that’s because she needs to decide whether to keep her brain-damaged husband alive or, per the wishes of her unseen (and seemingly disdainful) daughter Madison’s, place him in a nursing home. But the true spark that has lit the flame of the uncertainty is the predictable one. In the wake of the car crash that has landed Maurice in the ICU, Constance has discovered – via his cellphone – that Maurice has spent the past eight years having a once-a-week affair with LaShonda, a lower-class clerk who has delivered an ultimatum to Maurice to leave Constance. Was he preparing to tell LaShonda “yes,” had he made it to her place rather than winding up in the hospital.
But Hutchison has a larger, more intriguing point: Is the affair, in some way, Constance’s fault? Mind you, we never find out if their sex life has completely diminished or if they bicker and squabble on a daily basis. Indeed, if we believe Constance, their union is happy, or at least comfortable. But there’s another even more insidious reason Constance has her doubts about Maurice’s willingness to stay.
The couple comes from very different backgrounds: While we learn Maurice worked his way out of the ghetto into upper-class respectability, Constance is from the monied, well-bred class – so much so that she reluctantly admits that she might not have given her future husband the time of day if he had said “axe” (like his relatives) rather than “ask” or was still wearing borrowed suits rather than bespoke ones. Had she placed too much value on the superficial? And, more importantly, had she somehow made Maurice feel so ashamed of his past that he felt he had no choice but to turn to someone like LaShonda, with whom he seemingly shared a different sort of kinship?
It’s potent food for thought, not just for Constance, but for any audience member, whether in a long-term relationship, starting one, or even contemplating one. Indeed, Hutchison’s ability to make us think differently about all the elements of “love” is all the proof we need about how vital theater remains in examining the human condition!
Photos: Joan Marcus
“Proof of Love” is at the Audible Theatre at the Minetta Lane Theatre (18 Minetta Lane) through June 16. For tickets and information, visit www.audible.com/minettalane or call 1-800-982-2787