Looking back at marriages among more public, universally known celebrities who played husband and wife onscreen, those troubled fictional unions often become relics of their shattered real-life equivalents. Allen and Farrow, Kidman and Cruise, Ball and Arnaz — all of those romances ended offscreen but remain documented, in warped, fictional form, onscreen. I Love Lucy is, perhaps, the most classic example of this, with Ricky and Lucy appearing to be the perfect dysfunctional couple onscreen and then going home to a marriage that was, as Ball called it, a “living nightmare.” But what they were doing onscreen wasn’t ever as perfect as the swelling score or the chaste kisses made it look — almost every episode was about an intra-marital struggle. Though Lucy’s fight to be heard was trivialized by the times, each episode now reads as something of a prison-break scenario. And, with revisiting the stiflingly abstemious, twin-bedded sweetness of their onscreen relationship comes the knowledge of Desi Arnaz’s alcoholism and infidelity — and of a completely tumultuous partnership.
In Hannah and Her Sisters, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow (never actually married) play exes who split because they couldn’t conceive. The upsetting real-life dissolution of their partnership and the allegations that followed cast a shadow of discomfort over this and plenty of other Woody Allen movies. Eyes Wide Shut offers a more vivid and, er, physical look into a marriage that was considered the ideal Hollywood union, until it ended bitterly and seemingly very, very weirdly. In the film, Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise’s characters each contemplate infidelity, with Kidman dreaming of it and Cruise accidentally finding his way into the web of a menacing orgiastic society, the latter of which doesn’t read as too dissimilar to real-life events.
Back in Happy Days, Winnie recalls two strangers having stumbled upon her a long time ago, and having wondered what lay beneath her sand-dune skirt — whether it “still worked.” Meanwhile, Willie’s whole existence is impotence. The play is one of the most essential marital dismantling acts out there, and watching two seemingly happily married actors devote themselves to each other to engage in it is both powerful and perplexing.
At the play’s close, Willie reappears and makes a staggeringly difficult trek towards the top of Winnie’s heap of sand, but it’s unclear whether this is a gesture of endured devotion or if he’s reaching for a revolver that lies between the two of them. In interviews about the production, Adams noted that she’d resolved, echoing Winnie herself, that “My decision [about that moment] is that he’s come to me and that he loves me, and this is a happy ending.” Interviews with both Shalhoub and Adams came out in advance of the production, revealing an acute devotion to one another, and one another’s art. From Playbill:
Tony said he would do this without prompting or anything which was really an act of love on his part for me. That’s made it even more incredible. He only has five lines or something.
But I do them very well.
He steals the show.
Reading these interviews doesn’t so much undercut the play’s own pessimism about love, but rather show how perhaps one of the most generous things you can do for a partner is make art that acknowledges the fragility of such bonds — while reveling in the fact that yours is strong enough, at least at that exact moment, to enable you to collaborate so beautifully. In the case of other real-life loves documented by fictional collaborative endeavors, these become memorials of the moments when a couple cared enough about each other to be open about confronting, together, the scary ephemerality of passion.