Reasons to be Happy

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Photograph: Joan Marcus
Reasons to Be Happy
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Photograph: Joan Marcus
Reasons to Be Happy
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Photograph: Joan Marcus
Reasons to Be Happy
4/6
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Reasons to Be Happy
5/6
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Reasons to Be Happy
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Photograph: Joan Marcus
Reasons to Be Happy
Lucille Lortel Theatre, West Village Friday May 24 2013 20:00

Reasons to Be Happy. Lucille Lortel Theatre (see Off Broadway). Written and directed by Neil LaBute. With Jenna Fischer, Josh Hamilton. 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.

Reasons to Be Happy: plot synopsis

Emotional-button pusher Neil LaBute returns to his MCC Theater stomping grounds to direct his new drama, which follows up on the four central characters of his 2008 play Reasons to Be Pretty. The cast this time comprises Josh Hamilton, Fred Weller and New York stage first-timers Jenna Fischer (The Office) and Leslie Bibb.

Reasons to Be Happy: theater review

If Neil LaBute were to teach a course on playwriting, I bet his lesson plan would look something like this: “Week 1: Dumbing down characters to pad out dialogue and pump up conflict.” “Week 2: “Stringing together two-person scenes, no matter how monotonous it gets.” “Week 3: Embracing flat, shallow protagonists whose poor life choices are both predictable and banal.” And finally, “Week 12: Blasting tracks by Nirvana during changes to simulate tension and edginess.” Luckily, there is no Professor LaBute, so we’re not overrun with relationship clunkers such as Reasons to Be Happy.

This sequel to 2008’s Reasons to Be Pretty picks up three years later. Foulmouthed ignoramus Steph (Fischer) is still prone to loud, violent arguments with spineless bookworm Greg (Hamilton). But they’re not dating anymore. Greg is with Steph’s friend, beautiful single mom Carly (Leslie Bibb), who is divorced from rage-addicted alpha male Kent (Fred Weller). Steph is furious. Greg is guilty. Kent is homicidally angry. Carly is sensible—and, whoops—pregnant with Greg’s spawn, which makes things awkward because he’s being drawn back into the vile and manipulative Steph’s orbit.

Since the evening doesn’t end in gratuitious physical or emotional violence, I suppose the play should be viewed as a mature meditation on gender and ethics, but there’s very little to consider. Having authored a couple dozen plays and adaptations, and scads of one-acts, LaBute has abundant technique (he turns out fresh, highly actable dialogue by the yard), but he doesn’t have much to say. That void doesn’t stop his long-winded, boorish creations from yelling, simpering, insulting and apologizing. A wish for the future: Reasons to Be Silent.—Theater review by David Cote

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote

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Venue name: Lucille Lortel Theatre
Contact:
Address: 121 Christopher St
New York

Cross street: between Bleecker and Hudson Sts
Transport: Subway: 1 to Christopher St–Sheridan Sq
Event phone: 212-352-3101
Event website: http://mcctheater.org