How To Transcend A Happy Marriage, opening at the Lincoln Center’s Mitzie Newhouse Theater, is an untidy show. Beautifully acted and well signposted in the first act, the second act is a bit of a mess.
It starts with a friendly pair of married couples, Paul & George – played by Omar Metwally and Marisa Tomei and Michael & Jane – played by Brian Hutchinson and Robin Weigert. The ladies (George is a woman) have been friends since High School and are still close. Both have children now, Paul and George three younger children, Michael and Jane one teenage girl. They get together occasionally for dinner, drinks and the odd game of scrabble.
One such night, Jenna mentions a temp at work, Pip, who is a Bohemian in a polymorous situation, living with 2 male partners. She is an free spirit who will only eat meat she has killed, wears want she wants and lives a wild life. Some jokes, questions and mild titillation arise about Pip and her lifestyle. And so then the couples decide to invite Pip and her men for New Year’s Eve.
George leaves for the party, Marisa Tomei addresses the audience directly,
letting us know things take a bad turn. This admission plants a layer of expectation
and dread before New Year’s Eve begins.
|Omar Metwally, Marisa Tomei, Lena Hall, Austin Smith, David McElwee
At the party, enter Lena Hall as the fascinating and sexual Pip, trailing her two male partners (David McElwee and Austin Smith) – smart, sensual and opinionated in their own right. The seven spend New Year’s Eve drinking, flirting, talking and eating hash brownies. Yeah, you know where this is going. Pip is a magnetic figure; eyes follow Ms. Hall no matter what she does. Her sexy rendition of “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round The Mountain” is an oddly erotic tour de force.
Varying amounts of justification, guilt, acceptance and self-reproach, follow the sexual shenanigans. The discussions are, in varying amounts: interesting, redundant and self-indulgent. It is as if we, as a society, have sexually and emotionally regressed since the 1960s (or decades earlier if you happened to see Unfaithfully Yours at The Mint).
How To Transcend a Happy Marriage is, oddly enough, bound by a set of societal limitations that seems slightly archaic to me. The characters appear (to themselves) to be breaking beyond norms, but their actions as normative as possible in the situation. I would have expected no different conclusion had this been written during the Eisenhower Administration.
How To Transcend... is beautifully acted, particularly by Marisa Tomei and Lena Hall. But ultimately it leaves a frustrating taste in your mouth, a self-congratulatory Greenwich Connecticut flavor.
How To Transcend a Happy Marriage | Playwright: Sarah Ruhl | Director: Rebecca Taichman | Cast: Lena Hall, Brian Hutchison, David McElwee, Omar Metwally, Naian Gonzales Norvind, Austin Smith, Marisa Tomei, Robin Weigert