Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Break-Up and The Happy Sad

Photo/Joan Marcus

Ken Urban's new one-act, The Happy Sad, is as bipolar in tone as it is in title. At times, it is quirky (characters do not break into song so much as they deliberately pause the action and drift into a reverie) and at others it is profoundly honest (scenes between Marcus and Aaron seem particularly exposed and raw), but it is never wholly comfortable within its own skin. The play is almost chitinous, the way the scenes crinkle half between one world and the next: what begins as a seemingly simple roundelay of scenes (Stan and Annie break-up in Aaron's diner, Aaron and Marcus talk about love, Stan and Marcus have sex) slowly begins to collapse, starting with Annie's friend, Marcy, who is having a nervous breakdown in the wake of her father's pending double-amputation and her mother's mental retreat into the world of greeting cards (a bit too imitative of Jenny Schwartz's God's Ear, for that device not nearly as substantive here).

Along the way, we also briefly meet Alice (Jane Elliott) and David (John Anthony Russo), two incredibly vague characters/rebounds (Russo does squeeze the dry, narcissistic role for all its worth), but the play is ultimately unsatisfying. Annie notes, "I think there's more to comedy than just, I don't know, laughing. Think of something really painful in your life. Make it really raw. Make it funny." As such, there's a lot of promise in The Happy Sad. For instance, the way Havilah Brewster handles Mandy's collapse, it's as if her smile is made of silly-putty, and she has to keep holding it up, lest it slip permanently, along with the rest of her body, into a frown. The same can be said for Felipe Bonilla, who plays Marcus with such unflinching maturity that we understand the hurt that makes him cheat on Aaron: "I need something," he explains, half-drinking, half-throttling a beer. "Something that's mine sometimes." (Pete Forester, as Aaron, is the ideal scene partner for egotists: he gives plenty to everyone else in the scene without ever being strong enough to grab the audience's attention.)

Stephen O'Reilly and Annie Scott, who play Stan and Annie, are good actors stuck in leaden roles (I'm giving O'Reilly the benefit of the doubt that it's just a badly written opening): however, if there's vulnerability beneath Stan's headphones or Annie's nest of hair, it never shows. And that's what Ken Urban struggles most with in his play: showing the truth beneath his tacky, stylistic trappings.

(As for Tommy Smith's ten-minute The Break-Up, which precedes Urban's play, I have nothing -- nothing -- positive to say. Sorry.)

1 comment:

emily garnhart said...

I found your blog interesting and useful. I added your blog to my favorites and i will come to visit again tomorrow. I have a blog about how to get him back after a break up :)