Stephen Thie had two things in mind when choosing a play for his senior studio.
“I really wanted to do a play about a real relationship and for it to be a funny, modern play,” Thie said.
However, “Wanda’s Visit” is not your typical romantic comedy. Playwright Christopher Durang explores a dismal side of marriage and spins desperation into a delightfully dark comedy.
The play centers on the deteriorating marriage of a middle-aged couple, Jim (Nick Moore) and Marsha (Rachel Polzer). Their dry, suburban world is turned upside down when Jim’s erratic ex-girlfriend, Wanda (Ellen Rogers) pays them a visit — and quickly outstays her welcome.
Wanda, in particular, suffers from emotional extremes.
“Wanda has borderline personality disorder so … the way she experiences the world is very different from the way ‘normal people’ do,” Rogers said.
The couple isn’t perfect either.
“Through the visit they realize their marriage isn’t perfect,” Thie said. “They have problems with each other they’ve been suppressing.”
Marsha and Jim married hastily at a young age, having had a whirlwind college romance, but their honeymoon phase ended long before Wanda’s visit.
“Marsha is a very passive-aggressive woman who is … stuck in a life she doesn’t really love, but … she can’t imagine life alone,” Polzer said. “So, she deals with it and puts a smile on and pretends everything is great.”
Overly nostalgic,her husband tends to live in the past — which becomes apparent when Wanda comes back in the picture.
“He has all these fond memories of his life with Wanda that he wants to recapture … but she turns out to be a little more than he can handle,” Moore said. “He and his wife have a tense relationship and Wanda exposes all the tensions that are already there and pushes them to the breaking point.”
The result is a hilariously twisted triangle between a resentful wife, a wild-card ex-girlfriend and a husband torn between rekindling an old flame and trying to keep the whole situation from exploding.
Beyond the ridiculousness and humor of the situation, Thie says the University of Dallas community may able to learn a valuable lesson from “Wanda’s Visit.”
“[UD] needs to see something like this. Don’t rush because of ring by spring,” said Thie.
The struggling dynamic between the characters goes beyond a weighty examination of marriage and becomes a study of human relationships in general.
“It can really teach you about your relationships with others,” said Thie. “We’ve tried to find a line through [the studios] and we decided that they all represent a different theological virtue. Mine is about love — but a different side of love.”
The balancing of this serious lesson and the outrageous comedic appeal of the characters is a central theme to the studio.
“It’s such a human story,” said Rogers. “Behind all of the messed-up relationships it is a very heightened comedy. I hope people can take away both aspects of the ridiculous comedy and the stark reality of the relationships.”