Stories about failed relationships are nothing new in theatre, as many a play have tackled the subject – be it with humor or on a more serious, darker level. But Studio Theatre is presenting a new work that puts a different spin on the subject, with Ken Urban’s world-premiere play The Remains, which explores a gay couple going through the process of a divorce.
The play follows Kevin and Theo, a Boston-based gay married couple, who 10 years after their historic coupling decide marriage isn’t for them and must reveal their truth to loved ones. Urban based the comedy loosely on events from his own life.
“I got divorced from my partner of 18 years in 2015,” the playwright says. “I filed the paperwork just about the same time that the federal same-sex marriage ban was removed, so it seemed like an interesting time to think about those two things together. It also got me thinking about what it means to be in a relationship, and what it means to be in love.”
Urban notes that those in the LGBTQ+ community are only a few years into the whole concept of being asked, “When are you two going to be married?” He’s acutely aware of that pressure and understands that with gay marriage sometimes comes gay divorce.
“Before marriage for gay men and women was an option, we had to define what we meant by being in a relationship,” he says. “When I first met my partner in 1996, I didn’t know any other gay couples and what it meant to be in a long-term gay relationship. With marriage, you can try and rearrange the definition, but more pressures suddenly come upon you.”
Actor Glenn Fitzgerald plays Theo, and stage and TV vet Maulik Pancholy (Weeds, 30 Rock) stars as Kevin. Urban wrote the part with him in mind and asked his friend to take on the role. The two had previously worked together on Urban’s The Happy Sad in 2009 and The Awake in 2013.
“He is an incredibly sensitive actor and someone who dives really deep into himself when he’s working on a part,” Urban says. “What I love about Maulik is you can give him all types of challenges offstage, and he always rises to them.”
For his part, Pancholy was excited about tacking dramatic terrain that hasn’t really been explored in theatre onstage before, especially being a gay man himself.
“What is fascinating about this is it’s one of the first gay-themed plays that I’ve read that isn’t about the fight for equality or the fight to be treated as an equal human being, and yet it is,” he says. “We are in a time period now where, thank God, we won a lot of those rights – though given the current temperament, things can feel a little tenuous at times – and there’s still a long way to go in the way LGBTQ+ people are perceived in our society.”
Furthermore, he was intrigued at how Kevin and Theo’s story impacted those around them – those who had seen them fight so hard to be treated as equals and were now watching it be torn apart. Though it has nothing to do with his real life – Pancholy is happily married – he thinks it’s an important story to be told.
“In my own wedding, there was a sense of it being more special than a heterosexual wedding because with it comes all the history and legacy for the fight of equality, and a lot of hopes pinned on that and a lot of meaning attached to that kind of love.”
Pancholy says the play posits the question, “What does it mean when you fought so hard for the right to love, but then find you may not want to be with that person you fought to be with – not just for the couple, but those around them?”
Studio Theatre’s Artistic Director David Muse is directing the play and was brought to the project by Pancholy. The pair went to graduate school together at the Yale School of Drama.
“We’re friends and we last worked together about 16 years ago,” Muse says about Pancholy. “The chance to have an artistic reunion with him was a big reason why I wanted to do this. He acted in more plays that I directed [in school] than anyone else – something like five times!”
The director shares that the play also sits in Studio’s sweet spot in that it’s a realistic, living-room drama with funny, emotional things going on, and he likes the fact that it’s something of a “next generation” gay play.
“There are a series of plays with contemporary themes dealing with what I call ‘second-stage assimilation’ concerns: questions like gay parenthood and squaring the idea of monogamous marriage with a more liberated approach to sexuality that we tend to associate with gay culture,” he says. “Watching the gay play evolve on some level with less to struggle against really interests me.”
The Remains is at Studio Theatre through June 17. Tickets start at $20. For more information, visit www.studiotheatre.org.
Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; 202-332-3300; www.studiotheatre.org