The air in the Mertz Theatre was filled with laughter during the opening night performance of "My Brilliant Divorce." But when you looked around, you couldn't help seeing a lot of people sitting stone-faced, not even smiling.
"My Brilliant Divorce" is a one-woman comedy written by Geraldine Aron and performed in this Asolo Rep production by Tony-nominated actor Mary Testa.
The story has to do with a long-married woman who, right at the play's start, gets dumped by her husband. She's more shocked than saddened -- she realizes, she says, that they really weren't that happy -- and then she finds out he's been cheating on her for years with a much younger woman.
The rest of the play consists of her account of the next few years in which she tries to adjust to being single, actively searches for a relationship and occasionally tries to mend the marital fences.
No matter who you are, you can't help but admire a lot of things about this production, especially Testa's performance and the direction by Michael Donald Edwards.
But "My Brilliant Divorce" has a specific target audience. On opening night, it was mostly women of middle age or older who gave Testa the big laughs. It didn't connect as well with men or younger women.
That's not really a failure, because the play -- which is really more like an extended monologue -- doesn't really try to appeal to a wider demographic. Men just can't be expected to relate to jokes about sagging breasts, mother-daughter relationships and buying your first sex toy when you're 50-something.
There are moments when the comedy falls flat no matter who you are, including a recurring bit in which our protagonist calls a suicide crisis line.
Testa, though, is great to watch and holds the almost barren stage admirably for the nearly two-hour duration of the show. She's straightforward and expressive but restrained, and likable even when her character is irritating (which is much of the time).
With a one-person show, it's especially hard to judge what contributions came from the actor and which were from the director. So Edwards has to get some of the props for the performance, and also for the delightful projected backdrops that light up the generally unadorned set. In one perfectly timed moment, a film of a birthday cake as big as the entire stage wall appears, and Testa turns and blows out the candles. A small but neat effect that had people smiling during intermission.
Even if you're not the person that "My Brilliant Divorce" aims to please, you won't find it offensive or even boring, just blandly written. For older women, and especially for older divorced women, it's apparently a hoot.
Details: Through July 14 at the Mertz Theatre , FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. No show July 4. Tickets: $42-$73. Information: 941-351-8000, www.asolorep.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.