FOR WORSE Sqrby Raphael Badagliacca

The funny thing about love is the funny turns it takes.  That’s the unavoidable truth at the heart of FOR WORSE – the current world premiere to come out of The New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

FOR WORSE could hardly be better at what it does best – fleshing out both meanings of that word “funny” — capturing the curious twists of life while making us laugh at our own predicament, man or woman.

Peter (Ed Kershen) and Karen (Kristin Griffith) have been married for 30 years.  They are the parents of three grown daughters.  The play opens with Peter confessing to a prolonged indiscretion that escalates as the action unfolds.  Karen takes his revelation the wrong way, or at least a way that Peter finds completely unexpected.  In the next 90 minutes the characters repeatedly create and defeat expectations for each other through the playwright’s careful, comedic dialog that will have you laughing out loud and smiling quietly at the familiarity of it all. The plot brings Lucia (Daniela Mastropietro), Peter’s sexy art student mistress, into the home he shares with his wife. That home is expertly rendered in the usual NJ Rep fashion, with works of art appropriately on the walls. Peter and Karen are the owners of a successful art gallery.

Lucia is impatient with Peter for his inability to separate from his wife. “What kind of man are you?” she asks in her irresistible Italian accent. The same thought is in Karen’s mind as she tries to process the very real appearance of the 26-year old woman, “younger than our oldest daughter.”

From there, the plot is a string of clashes between pairs of points of view driven by differences in gender, age, and station just like what we encounter repeatedly in our own lives. But here it’s almost always funny.

The direction cleverly shows us Lucia and a fourth character, gallery assistant Ashley (Angie Tennant) off-stage during cell phone calls before they actually materialize for Karen and Peter. We’re reminded of the dramatic possibilities our hand-held devices offer every day.

FOR WORSE is not all laughs, though. If betrayal is the unfortunate side of any relationship, it can also have its fortunate outcomes when it leads the participants to reflect on their own lives, to speak the unspoken, to realize themselves. So we have Karen articulating something that Peter and many of us of either sex may have never heard in quite this way, about how the appearance of children can alter the relationship between husband and wife. Or Peter’s insightful explanation of why men may do what they do because they too crave the feeling of desirability that the world naturally offers an attractive woman by her mere presence. These observations rise to the level of wisdom.

Kristin Griffith is perceptive as the stalwart wife with secrets of her own.  She is exceptionally good at letting us see realizations transform her from one moment to the next.  Ed Kershen, as Peter, confesses that men are adolescents, and he plays the part well, but he also wins our sympathy.  Daniela Mastropietro as Lucia is in the lucky position of being dealt a show-stealing hand, and she plays every card.  Angie Tennant as Ashley is innocent and sweet as she is described, yet she, too, has her moment.

FOR WORSE runs through April 10.  See it.

By Deborah Rennard directed by Evan Bergman; scenic designer, Jessica Parks; lighting designer, Jill Nagle; technical director; Brian P. Snyder; sound designer, Merek Royce Press  costume designer, Michael Bevins; stage manager, Jennifer Tardibuono; artistic director, SuzAnne Barabas; executive producer, Gabe Barabas.

With: Kristin Griffith, Ed Kershen, Daniela Mastropietro, and Angie Tennant.

At NJ Repertory Company (179 Broadway, Long Branch,  NJ — 732-229-3166; through April 10.  Thursdays & Fridays 8pm; Saturdays 3pm & 8pm; Sundays at 2pm.