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A CurtainUp Review
The Triple Happiness
The plot revolves around a typical suburban Westchester family. Tessa, a washed-up movie star and their unexpected houseguest, crashes their holiday plans. They take her in out of politeness, just as their son Mike returns from his first semester at Vassar.
Tessa's calculating flirtatiousness is born of a long career of clawing her way to the top by trading on her looks. Her latest flirtation dangerously involves both Mike and the father. Then Hope who sits next to Mike in Fiction 1 shows up. Like Mike with whom she's desperately in love she wants to be a writers. Berman's careful structure pays off when these two love triangles collide.
The true genius of this play is in the characters. Though Berman doesn't let us know much about them, she tells us just enough. We know Tessa is the sort of person who wears too much eye makeup and drinks martinis for breakfast. We know Hope is the sort of person who talks earnestly about metaphysical shifts and political manifestos while wearing a "Princess Power" t-shirt (she's also the sort of person who takes a class in the Split Culture of the 1980s--studies Soft Cell, Human League, Flock of Seagulls, and the ""neo-romantic impulse in a Cold War context"--though she is barely old enough to remember the 80s). As for Mike, we know that he is the sort of person who talks to strangers on the bus and writes down their life stories. These small clues push the story forward in unpredictable ways.
Surprisingly, it's Hope who is the true catalyst of the play. In a way, she is its narrator. She watches over the action, not fully moving into the story until the second act. Her monologues propel the others into their own monologues, thus revealing the inner desires of each character.
The acting keeps pace with the action. Ally Sheedy is a hysterically funny Tessa (no offense to Ms. Sheedy, but she plays washed-up movie stars very well). Betsy Aidem, the mother, seems to be reprising her role as the nervous mother from Adam Rapp's Stone Cold Dead Serious, but she's perfect at that. Mark Blum (Crocodile Dundee) is the befuddled if affable father. Keith Nobbs and Marin Ireland as Mike and Hope are true gems. Both play their overly idealistic characters in in a just right hyper way. Anyone who can remember the growing pains of late adolescence will recognize themselves in Mike and Hope.
While the overall pace is a little too slow and the cast as a whole a bit too fervent (it's as if they're trying to fill the large stage; perhaps the play would work better in a smaller space), Michael John Garces' geometric direction showcases their talents admirably.
The Triple Happiness is a home run for Second Stage. Be sure to see it before it closes.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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