Monday, June 24, 2013

<i>The Office</i>'s Jenna Fischer Takes a New York Stage in <i>Reasons to Be Happy</i>

Posted By on Mon, Jun 24, 2013 at 1:22 PM

"I would prefer the facts," Carly tells Greg late in Neil LaBute's latest play, but that's a tall order: Greg can hardly say a word that's not deflective or dissembling; he talks a lot without saying anything. It's not that he's pathological; he's just someone who tries to ride things out, hoping if he ignores a problem long enough it'll sort itself out or go away. But the problems he faces in Reasons to Be Happy (at the Lucille Lortel through June 29) won't be so obliging. Taking place years after reasons to be pretty, which started at the Lucille Lortel and wound up on Broadway, this sequel finds the same characters in different romantic permutations: Steph (Jenna Fischer, as good on stage as she is on television, though she could work on the strength of her voice) is married; her ex Greg (a funny and likable Josh Hamilton) is dating her friend Carly (an endearing Leslie Bibb), whose ex-husband and baby daddy Kent (a hilarious and poignant Fred Weller) watches their romantic dramas ruefully from the sidelines. Steph wants Greg back, but Greg has certain obligations to Carly, and he must choose between them. And for as long as he can, he won't.

It's not that he's using them, just that he's afraid of hurting anyone; he's derisively described by others as "non-confrontational." That's not to say he's nice: in fact, most of the characters here aren't nice, and they yell quite a bit, sometimes raise their fists. Most of them are very angry, and their fights feel true in that they're often inarticulate and wander off on meaningless tangents: an argument about relationships turns into an argument about Helen Keller because of a stupid joke. LaBute writes strong stylized dialogue that gets at emotional truths. Ditto his characters, here people just trying to find happiness in whatever depressing and inadvisable ways. Greg ultimately makes mature and painful decisions; much like the playwright who created him, known for provocative and politically incorrect work, he's starting to grow up. And this drama feels like an authentic record of a certain type of man at this certain point in time—a Gen-Xier spin on the mumblecore kids.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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