Saturday, May 25, 2013

Reasons To Be Happy ***

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
Neil LaBute's seriocomedy, now in previews at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in an MCC production, revisits the four characters he introduced in "reasons to be pretty" three years later. However, familiarity with the earlier play is by no means a requirement for this one. The four are working stiffs; many of the scenes take place in the break room of the plant where three of them are or have been employed. Greg (Josh Hamilton), the one who has finished college and aspires to be a teacher, is nonconfrontational and commitment-shy in the extreme. Carly (Leslie Bibb), the pretty one, is a security guard and single mom, recently divorced from Kent (Fred Weller), the macho jock with anger-management issues. Steph (Jenna Fischer) is the not-as-pretty hair stylist who, although now married, suddenly has renewed feelings for ex-boyfriend Greg as soon as he takes up with her close friend Carly. Complications ensue. LaBute is a master at creating pitch-perfect dialog for awkward situations that is funny, vulgar, yet wise. He seems to regard his blue-collar characters with a mixture of sympathy and condescension. Their life is governed by the harsh buzzer at the factory and even the buzzing device at the restaurant announcing that their table is ready. Except for Greg, they hold book learning in low regard. Watching these four bounce off each other may not lead to anything profound, but I found it highly entertaining. Hamilton perfectly captures Greg's tentativeness, but does not display the charm that would make it more plausible for the two women to be so attracted to him. Weller plays Kent almost as a caricature, but it works. Fischer has some fine moments and Bibb was consistently fine. Neil Patel's scenic design has the stage platform painted in diagonal yellow and black stripes like a loading platform; his break room at the plant nails every detail. Sarah J. Holden's costumes befit the characters. LaBute's direction is assured, but the play might have been tightened up a bit if it had the benefit of another director's views. Running time: two hours, 10 minutes including intermission.

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