Honour tells an oft-told tale, the subject of countless other plays, TV movies and soap operas: An older man dumps his loyal wife for a younger version. But this story by Joanna Murray-Smith takes on more than a few unexpected twists in the play staged by Renaissance Theaterworks. In this sensitive, honest portrait of a failing marriage, Honor (spelled differently than the play’s title) and Gus seem to be the perfect couple. They are almost smug about the life they’ve created together. In fact, they scoff at a friend who recently ran off with a younger woman. “What is it about death that sends a man to a tanning salon?” is one of Gus’ more delicious lines.
Yes, there’s a lot of comedy—and irony—in this well-crafted script. Laura Gordon, a well-known Milwaukee actor and director, infuses Honor with her own style of quiet grief and anger. The couple’s college-age daughter, Sophie (Karen Estrada), voices the raw emotions linked to her betrayal. She sputters in disbelief when Honor tells her the news. When she discovers that her father’s new lover is practically her own age, her indignation basically explodes.
The third member of this love triangle, the young and lovely Claudia, is endowed with equal parts craft and charm. She is completely clueless about love. As the play begins, Claudia (Greta Wohlrabe) is interviewing Gus for her book. Gus is an award-winning author and journalist, married to an important poet. As he talks about his past, little does he realize that the woman taking notes is going to be an important part of his future. Gus is flattered by the flirtatious Claudia, and so it begins.
Director Marie Kohler walks a fine line in summoning a small bit of sympathy for both Gus and Claudia. Gus seems lost and almost afraid as he leaves one life for another; Claudia, the home-wrecker, ends up admiring Honor more than Gus and encourages her to start writing poetry again. Amazed at Claudia’s audacity, Honor eventually takes her advice. Later, when Gus congratulates Honor on the positive critical notices for her work, Honor delivers a dagger-blow in response.
“That’s because they see the truth in it,” she says.
Honour, the final production in Renaissance Theaterworks’ season, plays through April 15 in the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre. For ticket reservations, call 414-291-7800.