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A CurtainUp Review
Reasons to be Happy

"I want us all to be happy but I don't even know what that word means any more! 'Happiness. I really don't...I mean, you can't touch it, or taste it, so what the hell is it? I dunno! But I wanna get there. . . "— Greg
Reasons to be Happy
Josh Hamilton and Jenna Fisher
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Neil LaBute devotees will find plenty of reasons to be happy that he's re-visiting the messy lives of two working class couples in an anywhere USA suburb. While Reasons to be Pretty concluded LaBute's trilogy of plays focusing on the American obsession with physical appearance, it was also very much about the coming of age trajectory of Greg, the one intellectually inclined member of this foursome.

Reasons to be Happy reignites the explosive emotions complicating Greg and Steph's relationship. He also reintroduces us to Carly and Kent.

Not one to end his plays with all the loose ends neatly tied up and with a happy ending, LaBute does untether the bookish but more jerk than hero Greg from his pattern of entangling himself in doomed to fail relationships without being able to deal with the inevitable problems that ensue. However, LaBute also allows Steph and Carly to ride the coattails of Greg's self-actualization and even gives the obnoxious, book hating Kent a human and self-aware moment.

Reasons to be Happy once again begins with Steph and Greg embroiled in a fierce battle. In fact, the staging and plot structure pretty much follows that of the last play — except that Greg has left the warehouse and is embarked on a teaching career. The super macho Kent and the gorgeous Carly still work there and every other scene takes place in that warehouse's sterile recreation room.

The ice cream sandwiches in Greg's bag and F-Bombs delivered by Steph fly all over the Trader Joe's parking lot where the play begins. The reason for Steph's outrage in the last play was Greg's insensitive remark about her looks. It marked the beginning of the end for them as a couple. Given that they've now been apart for three years, and she's with another man, Greg is certainly free. But for Steph that doesn't include taking up with her friend, the also divorced Carly.

Not too surprisingly, underneath all of Steph's fury is the fact that she still loves and wants Greg — and Greg returns her feeling. And just as unsurprising, Kent isn't keen to see his ex-wife with his old buddy.

While Reasons to Be Pretty had sturdy enough legs to move to Broadway, I found Reasons to be Happy somewhat less potent both in terms of its plot development and these characters having enough appeal to warrant this revisit. The new cast is more than capable. Jenna Fischer who plays Steph is best known as the much less foul-mouthed Pam Beesley of The Office. She is undoubtedly a ticket selling draw. But I found both Allison Pill (in the downtown production) and Marin Ireland (on Broadway) more compelling.

Still, Reasons to Be Happy, like its predecessor, offers a realistic, smartly directed and staged look at blue collar lives and mindsets. I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. LaBute had a play about the way the changing economy is intensifying the struggles of people like this. However, if I'm right, I'd prefer meeting a brand new set of characters.

Links to reviews of the two prior plays in Mr. LaBute's "beauty" trilogy:
Shape of Things in London and New York.
Fat Pig

Reasons to Be Happy
Written and directed by Neil LaBute
Cast: Jenna Fischer (Steph), Josh Hamilton (Greg),Leslie Bibb (Carly), Fred Weller (Kent)
Set design by Neil Patel
Costume design by Sarah J. Holden
Lighting design by Ben Stanton

Sound design by Robert Kaplowitz
Stage Manager: Joel Rosen
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, including one intermission
Lortel Theatre 121 Christopher Street www.mcctheater.org or calling 212-352-3101
From 5/16/13; opening 6/11/13; closing 6/29/13.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at June 5th press preview
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