Reasons to Be Happy

I was quite looking forward to seeing this Off-Broadway play last night. I know many people have a complicated relationship with Neil LaBute, but I tend to like his work. Several of his plays have struck a chord with me, particularly a production of This Is How It Goes that I saw in London back in 2005. His most recent play on Broadway, reasons to be pretty, which starred Marin Ireland and Thomas Sadoski, was very well done. Yes, it’s a similar title for a reason (no pun intended). Reasons to Be Happy is as close to a sequel as you can get in the theatre. We revisit the same four characters (played by four new actors), in the same town, three years later.

What’s immediately clear from the first moments is that these people haven’t changed. They still haven’t grown up and are just as flawed as ever. Now, this may be realistic, and even refreshing to see, but it’s also not all that interesting, or theatrical for that matter. I’ve already seen this story. I don’t see the need to witness the same struggles rehashed by the same characters.

But first, some background. In pretty, the play opens with Greg’s girlfriend Steph screaming at him. It’s an enormously foul-mouthed monologue, telling him off because she found out he told his friend that her face was “okay.” Their four-year relationship promptly begins to fall to pieces while their friends, Carly and Kent, have problems of their own (they’re married, Kent is cheating, she’s pregnant, and so on and so forth). Cut to the opening of Happy, again in the middle of a fight because Steph, now married to the unseen Tim, has found out that Greg is dating Carly…who is raising her 3-year-old daughter alone and still works at the same place as Kent.

Sheesh. Okay, now that all that soap opera set-up is done, we can move on. I was super engaged in the first scene. It’s exciting when a show opens in the middle of a fight! It starts off with a bang, and you have to work to catch up. I love Josh Hamilton (Greg), and it was great to see Jenna Fischer (Steph) play someone so unlike Pam. After making a scene in front of Trader Joe’s, the plot thickens: she wants him back and he has to choose between her and Carly. Of course, other things hang in the balance making the decision more difficult, but I found myself not caring about his predicament. And I sat there basically trying to figure out why.

The core issue simply might be that these characters aren’t very likeable. Greg is pretty much a wishy-washy ass. He’s the master of non-confrontation, and he ends up lying his way through most of his interactions in order to avoid conflict. He is our protagonist, and I was simply not rooting for him anymore. In pretty, I was eager to see him climb his way out of the grave he had dug, but this time around, I didn’t want to see him succeed.

Also, can I go on a mini-tangent for a second? I’m a little tired of the homophobic language LaBute adopts for his “typical douche bags.” Dropping the words gay and fag right and left is a common occurrence in his plays; it’s just how the dumb jocks talk. But I think it’s unnecessary at this point. I get that there are people who still talk like that, but last night it just felt uncomfortable and out of place. I mean, we’re watching this play on Christopher Street while there is a gay pride rally outside celebrating the momentous step forward by the Supreme Court’s decisions on DOMA and Prop 8. I just think LaBute needs a new gimmick for that archetype. Okay, I’m done.

The play is well acted (the cast also includes Leslie Bibb and Fred Weller). My guess is that people who have no prior knowledge of these characters would very likely enjoy this production! I would have liked to see these four go through a new set of circumstances together. I just didn’t need to see reasons to be pretty again.


Reasons to be Happy
Written and Directed by Neil LaBute
Lucille Lortel Theater
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Josh Hamilton and Jenna Fischer

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