Imagine a life in which all of your silly, secret, least PC, and most neurotic thoughts were out in the open for all to hear? And not just yours; everyone you knew would be laid bare for the world to accept or reject. That is what it’s like watching Happily After Ever, now playing at 59E59, and that is why, in its quietest moments, it has the power to break your heart.
From the beginning you are thrown full into the frenetic conversation passing between two attractive strangers at a bus stop. Janet and Darren, played by Molly-Ann Nordin and Jeffrey Brian Adams, respectively, meet cute, fall for each other, get engaged, get married, and get pregnant all in a single whirlwind scene.
Janet and Darren are delightfully paired, neatly dressed, and enthusiastic about each other. They are also hilariously honest, voicing those thoughts most of us would feel guilty for having—but which we all have nonetheless. She talks about how falling in love comes when you finally meet your soul mate, the perfect person you were meant to be with (though you could have just been ovulating). He says that he will always be there for her (at least for the minimum amount it would take for her to stick around).
Add to the mix Dharma and Jerry (Marlon Meikle and Brennan Lowery) their neighbors out in their suburban love nest. These two epitomize the modern yuppie, with their perfect clothes, bounteous self-esteem, and superior attitudes. But their perfectly happy lives aren’t as perfect as they would have you think—and envy. Even they have secrets and insecurities. He secretly loves Janet. She secretly wishes she could be a mother. Neither can really own their feelings, so they set up rock-hard emotional facades and look for ways to circumvent their desires.
In the end, however, some of the best insight comes from Dharma and Jerry’s semi-stray rescue dog, played by Jim Anderson. As far as self-accepting characters go, this one can’t be beat. As with all of the characters, the words used are simple but carry unexpected weight.
Their delivery is sharp, like a crack to the face in the best way. Playwright Laura Zlatos has crafted an incredibly endearing play, with characters that are absurdly lovable despite of, or possibly because of, how outright bizarre they can be. The dialogue is positively jam-packed with hilarious non-sequiturs and what, in normal conversation, would be awkward and inappropriate blurting. Here it is elevated to fine art, with director Sherri Eden Barber keeping things moving fast enough to be snappy but not too fast as to lose the humor to the pacing. The direction is so sharp and quick, the stage and the people inhabiting it so colorful, that it almost gains a cartoonish quality.
It is for those reasons then that when the play does slow and become quiet, when the feelings are deep and personal, when these delightful characters must come to terms with their unusual baby, it hits all the harder. Because in this play, which brings to light how genuinely crazy we all are on the inside and how we constantly judge others or compare our lives and choices with theirs, making peace with something truly different and exceptional, accepting it for who it is, proves to be the most affecting and powerful choice of all.
When their baby is born with both male and female genitals, Janet and Darren are torn between the love they feel and the judgment they know they will face. All of the difficulty of being new parents is amplified by the knowledge that their child is different and that it’s up to them to make difficult choices most people won’t ever have to make.
Laughter, tears, introspection; Happily After Ever is a brilliant piece of comedic theater that has, at its core, a deeply loving and careful heart. Zlatos’ script touches on a huge range of human foibles, striking the right balance of funny and introspective. She brings voice to many of the thoughts that many people probably have but most would never own, but it’s done in such a way as to make them relatable and engaging. The brutal honesty is part of its charm, proving that we can love in spite of our fears and be loved despite of, and sometimes because of, what we want to hide.
Photos by Erik Carter:
Opening: Molly-Ann Nordin and Jeffrey Brian Adams
2. L-R: Brennan Lowery, Molly-Ann Nordin, Jeffrey Brian Adams, and Marlon Meikle
3. L-R: Jeffrey Brian Adams, Molly-Ann Nordin, Marlon Meikle, and Brennan Lowery
Happily After Ever
By Laura Zlatos
Directed by Sherri Eden Barber
Playing at 59E59 Theaters
59 east 59 Street