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City of Angles

Counseling From a Man Who Knows Divorce

April 11, 2002|GINA PICCALO AND LOUISE ROUG

Robert Stephan Cohen is the kind of person you would want on your side in the courtroom.

Chairman of the law firm Morrison Cohen Singer & Weinstein, Cohen is a high-profile matrimonial lawyer: He handles divorces. Wearing a blue handmade shirt from England, gold antique cuff links and a Cartier wedding band, Cohen exudes the confidence you would expect from the man who has represented clients including Christie Brinkley against Billy Joel, Tommy Mottola against Mariah Carey, and Ivana Trump and Marla Maples against The Donald.

Despite his metier, however, Cohen is more interested in helping people stay together than helping them split, he says over lunch on a recent afternoon.

To that end, he wrote "Reconcilable Differences" (Simon & Schuster, 2002), an anatomy of divorce that offers seven "essential tips to remaining together."

"I know more about divorces than therapists," says Cohen, who's based in New York.

"You're part-time shrink, lawyer and sycophant. You become part of the client's life."

The 63-year-old lawyer began writing the book two years ago, prompted in part, he says, by his second divorce some years earlier.

"I'd been married 20 some-odd years," says Cohen, adding he didn't know how awful divorce was until then. "Most people want to stay married," he says. "You're a lot better off married."

People get married because they love each other, because they want to be committed, intimate, "all good things," he says. "To rip that apart is wrong."

Cohen is especially disturbed by the notion of "starter marriages." "People in their 20s who view this marriage as a test drive," he says. "There's zero commitment. They're not even buying the car, they're just test-driving it."

Divorce, he says, is a sad and dirty business.

"Doing divorce work, you see people at their worst. In business litigation, there's a clear objective." Divorce, he says, "is not a deal. It's a deal plus ... the objective is sometimes to punish, to get even."

Although every marriage can't be saved, Cohen says many couples can work things out, and he is not afraid to turn away prospective clients and urge them to give it another go, he says.

His main words of advice for a successful marriage could be straight from Dear Abby: work and commitment.

"We're [more] committed to making our jobs work, to get a low [golf] handicap, to play tennis," he says. "I want people to make it."

Theater That

Reflects Life

Playwright-actor Daniel MacIvor sits cross-legged in the empty theater, silently pondering the nature of his work. It's Tuesday--rehearsal night--at the Freud Playhouse at UCLA, and members of his Toronto-based company da da kamera are testing sound, running lines and setting lights for their show, which runs through Saturday. It's the group's first appearance in Los Angeles, a city that MacIvor says smells of celluloid and possesses the well-preserved appearance of a movie set. Suddenly, the noise of a high-volume car crash screams through the room. It's a sound effect that makes MacIvor cringe. The room falls silent again, and he smiles. "That kind of describes the process very well," he says. "We learn by failing."

Da da kamera is an avant-garde theater company that MacIvor founded in 1986. MacIvor says the name is his invention, which translated from Russian (da da) and German (kamera) means "Yes, yes, to the small room." The phrase is a metaphor for the intimacy that MacIvor aspires to bring to each performance. "We're minimalists," he says. "My work has always been about getting to the essential."

The company's new show "In on It" features MacIvor and actor Darren O'Donnell on a bare stage with minimal lighting. They portray former lovers who are rehearsing a play that in some ways reflects the subtleties of their relationship. Consequently, Tuesday's rehearsal was steeped in surreal moments of life imitating art imitating life.

After an opening monologue, O'Donnell offers a critique to MacIvor: "You think that's a good way to start?" Later he adds, "It doesn't end very well." These lines are delivered in character. "We're inviting the audience to make a judgment," MacIvor says of the show. "Then to some extent, I suppose, pulling the carpet out [from under it]."

Ozzy Fest

Grammy Award winner, rocker and sitcom dad Ozzy Osbourne will get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Friday. The 53-year-old, who currently stars as himself in the MTV reality sitcom "The Osbournes," will be honored with the 2,195th star, in a ceremony presided over by honorary Hollywood mayor Johnny Grant.

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City of Angles runs Tuesday through Friday. E-mail: angles@latimes.com

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