The Unhappiness Plays
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
August 12, 2011
Greg Kotis, of Urinetown fame, brings us a series of tenderly un-ironic stories about being unhappy. Presented through Bob Fisher’s isolating direction (I mean that in a good way), we can see the unhappiness of others at a distance. But perhaps that is the first step to admitting that we have never seen it at all until now.
For example, one playlet is about a diabolical blind man who sends his deformed henchwoman to liberate people’s credit cards statements from their trash cans. Armed with these, he will steal identities and conquer the world. Being blind, he does not see that the credit card statements have been shredded. One feels pity for his frustrated ambition, malevolent or not.
A doctor is examining a man who must have blacked out after a night of drinking and pleasurable physical exertion with his wife. The man calls his wife. That is when he realizes he has been dead for years and living in a speeded-up astral plane. His call is going to bring the wife closer to the end of her life. The doctor, somewhat haughtily, explains that he is there to diagnose, not to become embroiled in these emotional matters. But is he really immune?
A young man comes back from the barber with a bad haircut. He said to stop cutting, but the barber ignored him. His mother encourages him to go back and cut the barber’s heart out; she would love to eat aforementioned heart. The young man leaves to carry out the bloody deed, only to discover he has been manipulated by strange forces.
A man who just ate a roast beef sandwich comes back to ask why there were no onions on it. Each ingredient is essential, otherwise there is no balance. The chef admits there were no onions, but asks why the man ate the whole sandwich. He says he didn’t want to give up hope. With Dickensian callousness, the deli owner refuses to give a refund unless the man gives him the sandwich back. Justice does emerge, but it is disgusting.
Those were my favorites of the nine scenarios within The Unhappiness Plays. The delightful performers are a bit creepy: The less their characters have going for them in life, the more they cling to the happiness that they are not going to get—not in this show. Heavy, sad music from Michelle Edwards emphasizes this condition. Though the scenes are drawn out and inward-looking, often with long beats of actors staring into space, the extra dose of absurdity raises the stakes. All this brings to mind the short plays of the Neo-Futurists, of which troupe Greg Kotis is a veteran. The cast (Michelle Kable, Ryan Gaumont, Steve Wilcox, Richard Briggs, Shawna Franks, Bob Fisher, Elizabeth Athetis) are all superb.