Open sexual relationships are certainly a vein worth mining in a theatrical setting, since people involved in those ever-changing couplings no doubt have potentially interesting stories to tell.
Of course, that would require the talents of a playwright who could dive into such tender erotic territory and escape with a play that resonates on more than one level. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case with Ken Urban, because his slight effort The Happy Sad is just about as richly revealing as the title itself.
In it, we find one New York City couple, Annie and Stan, who are just splitting up after six months of dating because Annie needs a break and she has some sick parent issues. Then there’s Aaron and Marcus, who are finding their relationship a bit rocky since Marcus wants to screw around on the side while Aaron wants to settle down with some adopted kids.
So far, so good. Except that playwright Urban then decides to play fast and loose with these folks. Annie meets free spirit Alice (Monica Zach) in a steam bath and decides to try the lesbian thing, while Stan suddenly goes trolling for a gay guy on the Internet. Who knew a failed heterosexual pairing is actually a sexual gateway into an at least partially gay lifestyle?
Not only that, Annie is also seeing David, a struggling standup comic while Annie’s pal Mandy (Ellie St. Cyr), a school teacher, decides to have a platonic friendship with Alice. But you know where that’s heading. Oh, and did I mention the characters break into off-pitch songs now and then, to express their feelings?
This could all be dizzying and delightful with the right script. And to give him his due, Urban has a nice touch with some of the snarky dialog that no doubt passes for communication among young people who are mostly interested in hooking up. But the conversations—pre- or post-coital—never rise to the level of being even vaguely interesting.
Director Tyson Douglas Rand and his cast are hamstrung by forced words and situations. At one moment, all these folks meet cute at a subway stop, a situation a witty writer could mine for some awkward fun. Instead, they mostly yell a lot and then wander off. At another moment the comedian David (Ryan Christopher Mayer), dying in front of an audience with his awful comedy material, tries to do the real thing and drown his head in an aquarium (which, as we all know, is standard equipment on any comedy club stage).
Against all odds, Hillary Wheelock as Annie and Ryan Edlinger as Marcus manage to find some believability in their cardboard characters, making their scenes play entertainingly. But Nate Miller as Stan overdoes his look of startled surprise, making it hard to track his character’s real emotions. And Jack Matuszewski lands some genuine laughs as Aaron but then relies on dewy, puppy-dog eyes instead of registering his emotions in a more convincing manner.
There’s a running joke in the show about a parent who speaks in greeting card clichés, poking fun at such manufactured banalities. However, with its relentlessly shallow depiction of these horny young folks, The Happy Sad makes any rack of American Greetings cards seem as nuanced and steamy as Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus.
The Happy Sad
Through October 24 at convergence-continuum at The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road, Tremont, 216-687-0074.