The Break-Up and The Happy Sad
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 24, 2008
Ken Urban's theatre work keeps on getting better and better. The Happy Sad, an hour-long play with songs at the Flea, is his newest effort, and it's an entertaining, provocative, and thoughtful look at twenty-/thirtysomething angst. It's a study of several relationships, of varying levels of functionality/dysfunctionality, and of the accommodations people make to either hold them together or hold themselves together. There's wisdom here, and wit.
The play begins in a cafe where Stan and Annie are having a date. At least that's what Stan thinks; but Annie quickly makes it clear that she's here to break up.
Cut to a park, where Aaron, the waiter who was taking care of Stan and Annie, is having one of those serious heart-to-heart talks with his partner of long-standing, Marcus. Why isn't Marcus able to be monogamous? Why does Aaron think he needs Marcus to be monogamous?
Cut next to a sauna, where Annie is chatting with fellow schoolteacher Mandy. Mandy's trying to cope with issues related to her parents, who are both ill, both forcing her to become a kind of caretaker. A third woman, Alice, enters and....is she making a pass at Annie?
Cut to Annie's date with her new boyfriend, David, who wants to do standup comedy in his spare time.
Cut to Marcus, emerging naked from his bedroom with a man who isn't Aaron.
I won't give anything else away, except to mention that in the slightly rarefied world of The Happy Sad, characters sometimes start to sing when talking doesn't seem to cut it anymore. And when Alice and Aaron turn out to be old acquaintances (exactly how is never explained), we aren't the least bit surprised. What people expect, happens as expected...or it doesn't; what people think they want, they get...or they don't. The Happy Sad is all about ambivalence, and how it takes hold, and how—maybe—we can grab hold of it.
The play is directed with assurance by Sherri Kronfeld, with the numerous scene transitions accomplished with surprising smoothness. (The complicated, even lavish, sets are by John McDermott, and serve the piece nicely.) Other design elements, especially Brandon Wolcott's sound and Erin Elizabeth Murphy's costumes, contribute well to the play's ambience. The performances are, across-the-board, excellent, with particular kudos merited by Stephen O'Reilly as the earnest Stan and Annie Scott as Annie, who is very much one kind of woman when she's with boyfriends and another kind of woman the rest of the time.
The Happy Sad comprises most of the double bill that it's on; the curtain-raiser is the very brief The Break-Up by Tommy Smith, which tells an improbable story about a man and the drug dealer who wants to end their business relationship.