SAN DIEGO — "You don't have to hit me over the head with a sledgehammer," says one of the characters in Nicky Silver's "My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine."
The line sounds as if it could be a site-specific irony for the play's U.S. premiere--here at the Sledgehammer Theatre.
"Sledgehammer" probably isn't the best image to describe Silver's work; his plays are funnier than that might suggest. However, he isn't one for restraint, either, judging from South Coast Repertory's past productions of his "Pterodactyls" and "Raised in Captivity."
"Marriage," which dates from 1993, is no exception. Its characters live in a sick society, and they say and do outrageous things. Incorrigible quipping in the first part of the play finally evolves into a grim, bitter ending. The weight of this isn't deeply felt--it's a bit late to care for the characters. The relationships of "Pterodactyls" and "Captivity" offered more substance. But the laughs here are real.
No, this isn't a biographical drama about Borgnine's ex-wife Ethel Merman, though it does include a story about her.
"Marriage" instead traces the disintegrating marriage of psychiatrist Simon Pelican (Brian Salmon) and Jill (Diane Addis), a former teacher of blind children who was so impressed by her students that she harbors two wishes for her own children: that they be boys . . . or girls, and that they might be blind. When no children appear, however, Jill turns her attention to Tiffany lamps, which she comes to regard as her offspring.