“Reasons To Be Happy” closed at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher St) this afternoon after extending its run, which began on May 16, 2013. The MCC world premier, which was written and directed by MCC playwright-in-residence Neil LaBute comes as a sort of sequel, companion piece to LaBute’s 2009 Tony Award Nominee for Best Play, “Reasons To Be Pretty”. If you know the story of “Reasons To Be Pretty”, you’ll find bursts of similarities and references to the show during “Reasons To Be Happy”, however, thankfully to many you don’t need to know the first to understand the second; you would just view them as two completely different entities.
“Reasons To Be Happy” is set in ‘the outlying suburbs, not too long ago’. It’s the story of four friends, turned lovers, turned enemies, who are just trying to live their lives right. It’s a classic telling of the love triangle, and how these young adults futures didn’t unfold as they had planned because of it. The show opens with Greg, played by Josh Hamilton (Dead Accounts, Dark Skies) running into his ex-girlfriend Steph, played by Jenna Fisher (The Office, Blades of Glory) in the parking lot of a Trader Joe’s. Steph is now married to someone else, but clearly hasn’t moved on enough. Who can blame her though, when Greg is now dating Steph’s ex-best friend, Carly, played by Leslie Bibb (Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Talladega Nights). Carly has a three-year-old daughter Jennifer (who’s never seen in the show) with friend of the group Kent, played by Fred Weller (Glengarry Glen Ross, The Shape of Things). Kent is not around a lot in Jennifer’s life and some would even argue that Greg is becoming more of a father figure to her than her own dad. Carly works as a security guard and Kent often works stocking her rather bland break room (one of the two sets in the show), causing them to frequently and awkwardly run into each other. To make matters worse, Greg often drops Carly off as well as picks her up from work, forcing him to run into Kent too. After the run in at Trader Joe’s, Steph reaches out to Greg with an apology, and the two begin to reconcile. Steph suggests they give their relationship one last try, complete with the willingness to leave her current husband. Greg agrees there is something still there and starts seeing both girls simultaneously. He agreed to break up with Carly until she reveals she’s pregnant with his baby. Now Greg has to decide which of the two ex-best friends he would rather be with in this terribly sticky situation, all while tolerating a jealous Kent whom he still sort of connects with just to increase the testosterone in his dramatic life.
It’s no surprise “Reasons To Be Happy” opened to rave reviews; Neil LaBute is known for other successful ‘modern’ plays such as “Fat Pig” and “The Shape of Things”, so given his immense talent for writing and directing as well as his all-star cast and the success of “Reasons To Be Pretty”, “Reasons To Be Happy” was everything audiences had hoped it would be. It runs roughly 2 hours 15 minutes with an intermission and it’s got a great, chill vibe with modern lighting and scene changes accompanied by alternative rock hits such as “Come As You Are” by Nirvana. When the scenes aren’t taking place in Carly’s break room, a lot of ambiance is created simply with lighting, props such as benches or flowers, and sound cues like children running on a soccer field. You don’t need to be a theatre junkie to appreciate that so much is done with so little. Complete with a lot of profanity, “Reasons To Be Happy” sure gave audiences a good laugh.
What is comes down to be that “Reasons To Be Happy” is relatable to virtually anyone who saw it. Everyone at one point in their life has to make vital decisions, and ultimately everyone is going to chase what makes them happy. “Reasons To Be Happy” is worth seeing at any future chance, and definitely worth reading in the mean time!