I have no idea why, after 14 full-length plays, everyone came tumbling after me demanding we produce this one. Honestly, I think I’ve written better ones. There must have been something in The End Of It that resonated more universally than I realized while writing it. If only I knew how to do that, I’d do it every time.
I will say that the older I get and the longer into my relationship I am with Rick (going on 17 years now), the more important he is to me, and the more I could never imagine life without him. Yet I keep hearing about all these people, gay and straight, who split up after 20, 30, even 40 years of marriage, and I always think, “What happened one morning? Did you wake up and a light bulb went off and you looked over at that person and thought, ‘I’m miserable, I don’t know you, I’m out of here?’” To which I want to say, “Have you thought about life ‘on the outside’? You’re 50, you’re 60, you’re a man with boobs, a woman with whiskers — have you considered things out there? Dating again? Have you looked at yourself lately?”
I don’t mean to sound negative or bleak. But really, what can be so wrong in a long-term relationship that couldn’t be fixed with a little therapy, a nice vacation, a couple of Stoli martinis? You want to look better? Go to a gym. You want a new perspective on life? Volunteer. But don’t break up, for God’s sake. You made a promise, dammit. Keep it.
We did about a year’s worth of invited readings of the play, all over LA (and one in San Diego). We talked to people who attended, and the response we got was fascinating. Everyone was so open and willing to confide in me the issues within their own marriages.
One gay couple said, “We drove home after your reading and had the biggest fight we’d had in almost 20 years.” A straight couple said, “Every single thing on the list [in the play, the person doing the dumping has a list of reasons why he’s leaving], was on our list. The lack of sex, the lack of intimacy, our not having children…”
I told the wife of this couple I was worried the play would cause divorces, and she said, “It’s the opposite. It forces you to talk — it forced us to go down that list and discuss whether or not any of these things was enough to split us apart, and now we’re talking, communicating.”
Another straight couple said, “Oh we don’t talk about your play. Ever. We will never discuss your play.” And my favorite came from a friend who said, “I only wish I’d ever been in a relationship where two people fought so hard and cared so much … all my relationships just sort of slowly disappeared.” Heavy stuff — and I had no idea.
When the director Nick DeGruccio and I started casting, we needed to find people who look like people, not actors. Nice-looking folks, but you know what I mean. We’re in our 50s, most of us, and need to look like we’ve been around the block. By complete circumstance, an old friend, the actress Kelly Coffield Park, happened to be moving back to Los Angeles, in time for the start of rehearsals. I sent her the play, she wept, and then she said, “Yes.” In this production, I am playing her husband; I am deeply connected to and riveted by her. We go to some pretty horrific places in this piece and Kelly makes it so easy for me.
There are two other couples in the play, and I’m sure Bill feels the same with David and Wendy feels the same about Ferrell. Kelly makes it real — we’re not acting, we’re losing each other, we’re saying goodbye to each other every night. Forever. And the production, with the help of genius designers and director, has become a magnifying glass into the terrifying separation of two people, told by six … and yes, I’ve been worried about whether or not people would want to see that. But someone, actually a few people, told me to shut the hell up because, “This is why we go to the theater, you idiot.”
Reviews are reflecting that, which is lovely — but the company delivers it with every single performance in ways I cannot begin to express. Their personal, private, deeply upsetting exposure, as if there aren’t 99 fearless people sitting only four feet away at the Matrix Theatre, is pretty mind-blowing. If I could take the credit, believe me I would, but it belongs to the rest of them, it belongs to Nick and the cast, and most of all … it belongs to the 99.
The End of It, Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., LA, 90046. Thu-Sat 8 pm, Sun 5 pm. Through October 20. Tickets: $30. www.plays411.com/theend. 323-960-4418.
**All production photos for The End of It by Michael Lamont.
Paul Coates is a writer, actor and producer. His plays include Desire!, The High Life, Hypno-Lite, Kathy Good and Speaking Of Bill. Coates is the owner and president of iManage Talent & Literary Management.