10 Reasons “Marriage Story” is also a Theater Story

“Marriage Story,” a movie on Netflix about a couple getting divorced, stars Adam Driver as a New York theater director named Charlie, and Scarlett Johansson as his wife Nicole, an actress in his theater company.

It’s not just their occupations that make “Marriage Story” a New York theater story

  1. Driver and Johansson  are Broadway veterans — Johansson winning a Tony in 2010 for “A View From The Bridge,” Driver nominated for a Tony in 2019 for “Burn This” — and so are many of the cast, including those with few or no lines portraying members of Charlie’s company, among them Gideon Glick, Raymond J. Lee, Matthew Maher, Roslyn Ruff.

2. Early scenes show Johansson as Nicole performing in Charlie’s avant-garde production of “Electra,” complete with close-up video projections on the backdrop as the ensemble carries her on their shoulders under deep red lights.

3. We then see all of them gathered in an unidentified theater hangout (though I’ve been told it was filmed in a restaurant in the East Village that isn’t a theater hangout), and overhear their chatter, which is about Charlie and Nicole breaking up, but also about the things actors talk about, e.g.: one says “Acting is reacting.”  Wallace Shawn as Frank (the producer?) stands up to make announcements. He praises Charlie and Nicole and wishes Nicole well for the pilot she’s shooting in L.A., praises the company because the play is moving to Broadway, and then pivots hilariously to praise himself, recalling his own career (“…winning your first Tony at 27; it can mess with your head.”)

Afterwards, Charlie has notes to give on Nicole’s performance but says what’s the point, she’s leaving. She says he won’t be able to sleep unless he tells her. “I thought your posture was too dignified, and at the end you were pushing too much for the emotion.”

“Well, you know I can’t cry on stage….I thought maybe tonight it would come…”

In a touching irony, she then leaves.. and bursts into tears.

4. Charlie  has his costume designer create a Frankenstein costume for Charlie’s child Henry to wear on Halloween. But Henry wants to wear the store-bought Ninja outfit that his mother bought him.

Later, when Charlie finds his own apartment in L.A. to be near Henry, he has another theater member (the scenic designer?), via Facetime, help him arrange the furniture.

5. Charlie’s son Henry: Why aren’t you here more?
Charlie: I have to work. You know my play is opening on Broadway
Henry: Is it because you don’t wanna be around Mom?
Charlie: No

6. Laura Dern as Nicole’s divorce lawyer Nora: “A few years ago, Charlie was offered a residency at the Geffen Playhouse that would have taken his work and his family to Los Angeles for a year, and he turned it down, even though that was Nicole’s desire”
Alan Alda as Charlie’s divorce lawyer Bert: “He wanted to maintain consistency for his family and his child.”
Nora: “Is that the same consistency he wanted to maintain when they went to Copenhagen for six months so he could direct a play?”

7. Nora compliments Charlie on “Electra,” which she saw when it transferred to Broadway. “There was one moment when you smell the toast. Smell. It was literally my favorite thing that I saw that year.”

8. The evaluator assigned by the court to determine child custody asks Charlie whether he’s staying in L.A. He says he has to work in New York; he’s directing a play in a few months – “Kasimir and Karoline” by ödön von Horvath
This is an actual play, written in 1932, about a couple who have a bitter breakup

9. Nicole, her sister and her mother sing “You Can Drive A Person Crazy” from Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Company” at a party in her home in L.A.

10. Charlie sings “Being Alive” from Company in a theater bar in New York.  “Alone is alone, not alive.”

(Ashley Lee wrote an entire exegesis of this song in the show in the L.A.Times.)

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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