A Letter from the Dramaturg, Adrien-Alice Hansel

The Remains follows Theo and Kevin’s relationship, ten years after they were one of the first gay couples to marry in Massachusetts and seventeen years after they met in graduate school. But things have changed—not just their right to marry but their jobs and outlooks as well. And as they consider making a major change, they’ve invited their families over for dinner—Theo’s parents, Kevin’s sister—to reveal their news.

Set in 2014, ten years after Goodridge v. Department of Public Health legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2004 and a year before Obergefell v. Hodges struck down the federal marriage ban, The Remains finds Kevin and Theo at an unstable moment in the history of gay marriage. Married at the state but not federal level, they face not just increasingly complex taxes (before 2015, married gay couples had to file as single people at the federal level, and frequently filed as married at the state level), but also vulnerability in visitation rights and second-parent adoptions. In all, there are 1,138 federal statutory provisions in which marital status is a factor in determining or receiving benefits, rights, or privileges that married same-sex couples were ineligible to receive.

Ken Urban’s darkly comic play considers the public face of gay marriage, and the ways family and friends come to build their sense of themselves around a relationship. Theo’s mother recently spotted the justice of the peace who married Theo and Kevin; Kevin’s twice-divorced sister takes solace in her little brother’s ability to keep his family life together in a way that she—and their parents—never did. If you’ve become an icon of social progress and romantic stability for others, do you owe it to them to play a role you never wanted? What if your view of an ideal partnership differs from the one that offers conditional acceptance from mainstream culture?

These tensions between acceptance and honesty, the public face and private truths—from all members of these families—come to a head at this awkward dinner party, but resonate beyond this one complex evening. Reflecting on his own marriage in 2014, Urban says, “Every relationship is marked by change. Work, life—the things that happen to you, the choices you make—they will shift your values, and sometimes your values and your partner’s don’t change in the same way. That is the built-in tragedy about being in love, especially in a long-term relationship. Loving someone inevitably costs you.”

To put a wider frame around those built-in costs of Theo and Kevin’s relationship—past and future—Urban has a potent theatrical surprise lying in wait under the snappy and engaging talk. The first two-thirds of The Remains chart these characters’ connections and disagreements in a single, real-time scene: the strain of long-distance relationships, lingering hurt from estranged family, and the question—threaded throughout the evening—of how to reconcile competing moral understandings of a situation. But at a certain point (no spoilers here) something shifts—in the relationships, in the characters, and in the structure of the play. What follows is a radical change in theatrical mode as the consequences of the relatively compressed scene come into view, offering a poignant and compelling representation of the higher-order social and philosophical questions that linger long after the collateral damage of The Remains.

—Adrien-Alice Hansel