A comedic and epic telling of a woman faced with divorce, and the odyssey of a breakup

By: Jan. 22, 2024

I am thankful for theater companies such as MILDRED’S UMBRELLA because they bring new plays to Houston and give the most talented local actors a shot at being in them. O: A RHAPSODY IN DIVORCE is a world premiere from author Jami Brandli, and it is a dramatic comedy that re-imagines Homer’s THE ODYSSEY as the journey of a forty-something-year-old “complicated” woman facing the dissolution of her marriage. It’s a Greek epic about a journey, but this time with a woman on the ship in search for a home. Director Jennifer Decker produces an elegant, beautifully acted, and timed hour-and-a-half show. It has the right rhythm for a rhapsody, the way Greeks used to tell stories through song-like poems. It breathes in all the right places and really hits home with the emotional honesty of what it is like to be caught in the storm of a break-up. 

The plot is super straightforward in that we see O at the top of the show, hearing from her husband that “they don’t work as a couple.” He wants to separate and not be in touch for a while, but he wants to stay in their home. This means O must wander from couch to couch amongst her friends as she grapples with the emotional roller coaster of an unexpected breakup. O’s friends range from sweet to “not so helpful,” as one even supplies her with pills that she promptly gets addicted to. We hear the thoughts in her head presented by a Greek chorus, and we see flashbacks to her childhood and times in her marriage. She struggles to stay normal at work and finds herself in some strange therapeutic circles that hilariously offer “not-so-typical” treatment. 

The incredible ensemble cast consists of five actors. Sammi Sicinski plays O throughout the evening. Rhett Martinez plays every male, Pamela Garcia Langton tackles the older women, Arianna Bermudez plays the middle-aged women, and Mayra Monsavais gets to be all the young girls or women. It all works very well with this delineation, and it gives O’s world an artistically satisfying singularity. The company remains onstage for almost the entire show, helping to change locales or adjust this giant couch/bed/car/boat piece that is central to the set. Technically, things are kept pretty simple, and that is a wise choice, given that scene-to-scene changes places so quickly. It’s an epic journey with a ton of places crammed in, so simple is essential. 

What is not so simple are the performances. Sammi Sicinski gives O the right amount of angst and hope to keep us on her side of the proceedings. She’s funny and endearing and plays all the ranges of emotions nimbly. She acts with every part of her body, and it’s an epic portrayal of a complicated woman heading into a divorce that she was not expecting. Arianna Bermudez showcases comedic timing in all of her portrayals that is laser sharp and intelligent. She’s the best friend you have always wanted every time she appears on stage. Myra Monsavais brings an innocence to her younger roles that feels genuine and warm. Pamela Garcia Langton brings an earth mother spirit to her maternal roles and delivers wisdom without embellishment. These three women support Sicinski beautifully and give honest, endearing performances. Poor Rhett Martinez has to be all the men, which means he’s the bad guy most of the time. But he too is such a great, nuanced actor that he pulls everything off with grace and charm. It’s a wonderful cast, each equally matched. 

Jami Brandli’s script is wisely layered with trauma, comedy, and a small dose of science. O is a neurobiologist who ironically studies the effects of love on the brain, so we’re provided insight into the chemistry of what is happening along with the emotional truths. Spoiler alert: the science never wins out. As in any Homerian Odyssey, emotional magic is what moves mountains. The dialogue is truly sharp, smart, and funny. There is a tone here that really is moving, and I couldn’t shake some of the insights for days later. 

Jennifer Decker is a masterful director; her work here is perfectly in tune with the script and her actors. She wisely keeps things moving at a fast, peppy pace, but then, when it calls for a breath or a beat, she is not afraid to insert it. She strips down the locations and different personas into a brilliantly easy-to-follow staging showcasing the script's strengths - its dialogue. This is a great case of when a cast, a script, and the creatives are all in tune with each other. Edgar Guajardo creates a set of dangling knots and three chests intriguingly labeled “Past, Present, and Future.” Laura Moreno keeps costumes basic and neat, with the supporting cast smartly kept in off-white entirely. 

O: A RHAPSODY IN DIVORCE does what any good play sets out to do; it makes you feel. Your heart breaks for the lead character; her struggle and journey are effective and moving. There is a lot here to savor, and it maintains the prestige of what this company routinely produces. Houston is lucky to have MILDRED’S UMBRELLA, and we’re also fortunate enough to be shown a world premiere of this particular work. Jami Brandli, Jennifer Decker, the cast, and the crew should be quite proud. 

O: A RHAPSODY IN DIVORCE runs through February 3rd at Studio 101 on Spring Street. Tickets are “pay what you can.” The performance runs ninety minutes without an intermission. The space has plenty of free parking around the building. 

Photo provided courtesy of Tasha Gorel. Featured left to right are Rhett Martinez, Mayra Monsavais, Arianna Bermudez, and Sammi Sicinski