Jan (Elizabeth Marvel) and Adam (Norbert Leo Butz) have one of those massive eat-in kitchens we all wish we had. You know the type: They exist only in the outer boroughs — a Brooklyn brownstone, in this case — or in TV shows about New York City. There’s always an island — perfect for breakfast or impromptu who-says-we’re-not-spontaneous sex. It’s neither austere nor cluttered; it’s just lived in.
The marriage, however, is not quite as enviable, and it’s immediately, painfully evident in Michael Weller’s knock-down, drag-out, violently compelling domestic drama, Fifty Words. The evening begins with Chinese food and champagne; ”I get nervous when you celebrate randomly,” says Jan presciently. Yet things quickly come to blows. (And they do, literally, come to blows: Opening night was actually postponed because of injuries sustained by the actors.) It’s tough to watch, and even tougher to listen to: ”She made me feel like a man” (wince); ”When you’re around, I just want you out of my hair. When you’re gone, I need you.” It takes a brave playwright to pull those words out of his head and put them into a character’s mouth.
Marvel and Butz banter, spar, and spark with great ease — they’re totally comfortable with each other, and that’s of utmost importance in such a nakedly emotional work. Toward the end of their nearly 90-minute war of words, a contrite Butz and a still-seething Marvel brood at the breakfast bar. He picks up her foot and forcibly removes a splinter of glass. ”Shall I bandage?” he queries, gazing up at the blazingly angry, yet lovely, woman by his side. Oh, if only it were that easy. A (Tickets: Ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200)